Ideas to Manage Wyomings Wolves

By Franz Camenzind, Ph.D. Executive Director, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance Having participated in the wolf endangered species delisting hearing in Cody on April 19, and having spent the rest of that evening talking with other participants, I heard this message loud and clear: Wyoming citizens love their wildlife but fear wolves and don’t trust the federal government. In addition, most of the people I spoke with agreed that wolves are here to stay, and that we’d better find a way to live with them and each other. Because the wolf issue is so controversial, and regardless of the decision the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service makes regarding delisting, it’s apparent that it may be years before Wyoming can manage its wolves. I suggest that we take this time to cool off and create a reasonable, scientifically defensible, fair and workable plan, and ask our state legislators to write a new law to accommodate it. Please let me share some wolf management thoughts. Wolves should have Trophy Game status throughout the state, and be managed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. This is the only way we can really know where they are and how many we have. The state should be divided into three or four management zones with wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem receiving the greatest protection; those farther out would have less protection, and wolves in the remainder of the state would have the least protection. There should be mandatory and immediate reporting of any wolf deaths caused by humans. We shouldn’t manage wolves for any particular upper limit, but we should manage verified problems. Landowners and ranchers should have the right to protect their property by shooting wolves that threaten livestock on private property and by shooting wolves on public land if they are in the act of attacking livestock. If this doesn’t take care of the problem, then there should be a system in place whereby professional animal control people can be called in to do the job. If it is proven scientifically that wolves are having a detrimental effect on other wildlife, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department should be allowed to do selective wolf control until that wildlife population rebounds, then it should stop. Wyoming’s wildlife has more to fear from loss of habitat due to energy development and suburban sprawl than it does from predators. Allow the public to help set wolf harvest quotas according to the various management zones. Game and Fish should sell hunting permits and collect a few extra dollars. All wolves killed due to depredation control need to be factored into public harvest quotas. The state should make every effort to acquire wolf management money directly from the federal government, not as an allocation from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Idaho gets about a million dollars a year right now to manage wolves; Montana receives about half that amount. The two states get these congressionally earmarked funds because they work with their congressional delegations to get them. To the best of my knowledge, Wyoming has never asked for similar assistance. It seems we would rather complain about an unfunded mandate than ask for money. If folks back East want wolves in Wyoming, they should help pay part of the cost. We should ask the state Legislature to allocate money from the general fund to reimburse ranchers for livestock losses attributed to wolves. It seems reasonable for the Wyoming Department of Agriculture to administer these funds. The entire state benefits economically from all the wildlife in northwestern Wyoming, including wolves. A University of Montana economic study estimated that people visiting Yellowstone specifically to view wolves spent 35 million dollars in 2005. How much of that money went to Wyoming is unclear, but whatever the share, rest assured that it “turns over” at least once in the state, and most of it generates sales taxes that go to our general fund. Using money from the general fund to reimburse ranchers for wolf-caused livestock losses is only fair and will not break the state’s budget. The hard part will be sitting down with representatives of everyone affected by this issue, deciding where to draw the various management zone boundaries, and then setting reasonable wolf-hunting seasons and quotas. These lines and quotas can change over time. We can either come together and manage wolves like other wildlife species, or we can continue to argue and waste time and money in court and get nowhere. For now, I urge everyone to ask the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to NOT delist wolves until Wyoming has a management plan that incorporates the points mentioned above. The deadline to comment on wolf delisting is May 9. Please visit www.jhalliance.org/whatsnew.html for information.