Wyoming is taking over wolf management, again. A federal appeals court has entered its final order upholding Wyoming’s wolf management plan. So, the state will pick up where it left off five years ago. And wolves outside a protected area can be shot on site.
Wolves in Wyoming were first protected by the Endangered Species Act in January 1995, when Canadian wolves were brought into Yellowstone by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Mark Bruscino, who later served as Wyoming’s Large Carnivore supervisor, was asked to help capture 14 wolves in Alberta, Canada, that were brought to Yellowstone that year. He said the biologists were working so hard, they didn’t think about history.
Bruscino said, “But then we started seeing it in the evening on the news, but then there was a court injunction that temporarily stopped it, shut everything down for about a day and, then we realized it was really an international event.”
Mike Phillips, Yellowstone’s wolf biologist then, predicted: “Sometimes wolves are going to cause problems, and those problems need to be rectified. That’s fine. That’s just the way it is.”
After 17 years under federal protection, Wyoming’s Game and Fish Department took over wolf management in 2012. The animals were taken off the endangered species list.
Wyoming biologists trapped and monitored wolves in northwest Wyoming, and hunters killed wolves in the trophy game area just outside the parks. The animals were also killed as “predators” outside the trophy game area.
But two years later, Wyoming’s wolves were put back on the Endangered Species list after four environmental groups sued, saying the state plan wasn’t strong enough to protect wolves. A federal judge agreed.
In late April 2017, the circuit court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. issued its final order upholding Wyoming’s wolf management plan.
Alan Osterland is the Chief biologist at Wyoming Game and Fish Cody office.
He pointed out, “We work very hard to manage all our populations. And wolves will be no exception. And I think our track record from the two years that we did manage them indicates that.”
Retired Yellowstone Park John Osgood agreed.
He said, “Wyoming is an extremely able organization. I respect them a lot. Their integrity level is extremely high. And they are going to manage the population for sustainability.”
But, a retired wildlife ecologist in Cody, Chuck Neal is concerned about Wyoming’s dual listing. The dual listing was upheld in the federal appeals court decision. It means wolves are protected and hunted in the trophy game area, which borders Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. But, outside the trophy game area, wolves are legally considered “Predators”.
Neal said, “To be treated as vermin, to be killed on sight anyhow, anywhere, anytime over 85% of the state.”
Neal said wolves are top level carnivores that are needed to keep ecosystems in check.
He pointed out, “The Yellowstone ecosystem was unraveling prior to the return of the wolves 20 years ago.”
The President of Wyoming Outdoorsmen, Jerald Jochim applauded the dual listing,
He commented, “I’m glad we stuck to our guns on it. We don’t have a place for wolves throughout the state.”
Meeteetse area outfitter Pierson Hodgens said, “You can’t manage your elk or your moose or your deer or anything if you can’t manage everything that affects their mortality rates.”
A Sierra Club Senior Representative, Bonnie Rice, said her group was disappointed with the recent ruling. But, she said they accept it.
Now, Wyoming’s Game and Fish is preparing for wolf hunting.
22 years ago, Yellowstone wolf biologist Mike Phillips predicted biologically, wolves would thrive in Yellowstone country. But, he said the species survival would depend on local management.
He commented, “If we can develop that local ownership, wolf restoration is sure to succeed.”