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Wyoming Gray Wolves at Serious Risk

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Wyoming’s gray wolves at serious risk

BY: Franz Camenzind, Jackson, Wyoming

Play with the numbers as you wish, but it’s clear that Wyoming’s first year of managing wolves will end with a very significant reduction in wolf numbers. A reduction so severe that if continued could put the population’s long-term survival at risk, and a reduction so significant that it could generate calls to re-list the population under the Endangered Species Act.

On September 30 Wyoming’s gray wolves were de-listed and the state through the Wyoming Game and Fish Department assumed management responsibility for the estimated 230 wolves outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, the National Elk Refuge and the Wind River Indian Reservation. At the same time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reported that during the first 9 months of the year, 44 wolves had been killed in Wyoming – 36 because of livestock depredation and 8 from various causes. The latest Game and Fish Department report states that from October 1 to November 29, hunters killed 56 wolves – 37 in the Trophy Game Area and 19 in the Predator Zone. (The 2012 Trophy Game quota is 52 while there is no limit to the number of wolves that can be killed in the Predator Zone – which covers nearly 90 percent of the state.) The same report listed 4 wolf mortalities in the Trophy Game Area (not counted towards quotas) – one hit by a vehicle and three deaths attributed to “natural causes”. With one month remaining in this year’s wolf-hunting season, we know that Wyoming has already lost at least 104 wolves or 45 percent of the 230 wolves under state control.

Wyoming’s hunting regulations allow for 15 more wolves to be killed by hunters in the Trophy Game Area. If achieved, that would bring the known mortality to 119, or 52 percent of the state’s wolf population. (Hunt Area 8 with a quota of 7 had two wolves killed in separate incidences at nearly the same time. One mortality met the 7 wolf quota and closed the HA while the second exceeded the quota. No laws were broken in this case, however the “extra” mortality will not be subtracted from another HA or from the state’s overall quota of 52. Consequently, the number of wolves killed legally by hunters in the Trophy Game Area could reach 53.)

Game managers estimate that a minimum of 10 percent of a wolf population will be poached, killed illegally and rarely found. That’s an additional 23 dead wolves, bringing the likely number of wolves killed in Wyoming to about 143 or 62 percent of the state’s 230 wolves.

Wildlife biologists estimate that a wolf population can suffer an annual mortality rate of 35 to 45 percent and still maintain itself, while a higher mortality rate will likely result in a long-term population decline.

An argument can be made that the population estimate of 230 is a minimum number and that the quota of 52 will not be met. Both are real possibilities. However, I contend that the 10 percent poaching figure is also a minimum estimate. And it is difficult to know how many wolves die of natural causes, but we know they do. I would also venture to say that additional wolves will be killed legally in the Predator Zone and reported while some will be killed and not reported. In addition, this year’s mortalities may have eliminated an unknown number of breeding pairs – of which a minimum of 10 must be verified at years-end to avoid pressure to re-list.

If the above scenarios play out we could end the year with fewer than 90 adult wolves (230 minus 143) plus however many of this year’s pups survive to year’s end – perhaps 50. As such, we could begin 2013 with roughly 140 wolves or 40 percent fewer then in January of 2012. This figure is approaching the 100-threshold Wyoming must maintain in order to keep the re-listing process from starting up. And a population of 140 wolves leaves little buffer to absorb next year’s natural mortalities, Predator Zone mortalities, another hunting season, poaching and the inevitable depredation controls.

The decision to delist Wyoming’s wolves was based on an agreement to maintain specific population numbers that were written into Wyoming’s Wolf Management Plan. This plan is a contract between the State of Wyoming, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the public. It spells out hard numbers that at years-end will be scrutinized by the public and possibly the courts.

Play with the numbers as you wish, but it’s clear that Wyoming’s first year of managing wolves will end with a very significant reduction in wolf numbers. A reduction so severe that if continued could put the population’s long-term survival at risk, and a reduction so significant that it could generate calls to re-list the population under the Endangered Species Act.

This situation comes as no surprise when considering that Wyoming’s Wolf Management Plan is designed to manage for minimum numbers instead of managing for higher population levels, levels capable of absorbing all sorts of mortality factors. Be careful Wyoming, we are pushing our wolves across some pretty thin ice… and the earth is warming!

Franz Camenzind

Jackson, Wyoming (Franz is a former director of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, environmental and community activist and former wildlife filmmaker).

TAKE ACTION  [ TALKING POINTS ]

WYOMING GAME AND FISH(307) 777-4600

WYOMING GOVERNOR MATT MEAD:

307.777.7434 (phone)

307.632.3909 (fax)

http://governor.wy.gov/contactus/Pages/default.aspx (contact email)  E-Mail: Governor@wyo.gov

Wyoming’s Official State Tourism Office:

Wyoming Office of Tourism

5611 High Plains Road
Cheyenne, WY 82007
(307) 777-7777 Phone
(307) 777-2877 Fax
info@wyomingtourism.org

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