PINEDALE – In the week following the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) removal of Wyoming’s gray wolves from the endangered species list, stories focused on the long struggle to get to this point, the negotiations between Gov. Matt Mead and the federal government and what the state’s plans for a hunting season were. As the dust settled, environmental groups came together and filed a notice of intent to sue the USFWS to reverse the decision and return Wyoming’s wolves to a protected status.
The coalition of eight groups, including WildEarth Guardians, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance and Western Watersheds Project, from around the Rocky Mountain region and beyond said the USFWS was premature in its decision to delist wolves in Wyoming, arguing it “turns the fate of Wyoming’s wolves over to a hostile state government, which has already drawn up plans for a fall slaughter.”
The USFWS decision came in time for a fall hunt season to begin Oct. 1 in most areas of the trophy game management area (TGMA), which covers much of the northwest corner of the state, including the northern portion of Sublette County.
The TGMA covers approximately 15 to 20 percent of the state. The group called the remaining 80 to 85 percent, which is home to around 14 percent of the state’s wolf population, an area of “unregulated wolf killing.” Wolves in this region have predator status and may be killed on sight.
The environmental groups claim the state’s wolf plan was devised to appeal to the cattle and sheep industry, which see annual depredations attributed to wolves.
In a press release announcing the intent to sue, Wendy Keefover, of WildEarth Guardians, based in Colorado, blamed the USFWS of being “completely complicit” in an arrangement benefiting “the anti-wolf minority.”
“[The] claims of innumerable livestock losses are without merit,” the groups stated in the release. “Data show that wolves kill less than 1 percent of cattle and sheep inventories in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.”
Under former Gov. Dave Freudenthal, Wyoming wanted to classify wolves as predators across the state, leaving the minimum wolf population in areas managed by the federal government or Native American tribes in the Wind River Reservation. The compromise developed between Mead and the USFWS acknowledges the wolf population in federally managed areas like Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, the Roosevelt Parkway and the National Elk Refuge and counts that population as five breeding pairs and 50 individuals.
The state is responsible for maintaining 100 individuals and 10 breeding pairs outside the federally administered areas to reach the USFWS target of 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs in Wyoming.
Currently, the estimated number of wolves in the state ranges from more than 200 to more than 300, depending on the source and whether the population in national parks is included. The environmental groups claim the numbers are not strong enough to withstand hunting.
“The full effects of hunting can’t be calculated, as it breaks up families of wolves,” Friends of Animals’ Priscilla Feral said.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which will manage the predators in the state, disagrees, citing specific quotas for hunting wolves, studying the effects of the hunts and reevaluating the quotas set annually. The quota for this year states up to 52 wolves may be taken in the TGMA.
Still, groups are calling Wyoming’s plan a regression “to a past era,” according to Duane Short, wild species program director for the Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, based in Laramie. Kenneth Cole of Western Watersheds Project called the recovery of Wyoming’s wolves “unfinished business,” arguing protection should be granted until wolves “are present in healthy numbers in all suitable habitats across the American West.”
This coalition of environmental groups join EarthJustice, which expressed its intent to sue the USFWS last week. The groups have to wait 60 days to file suit, which is after the hunt season begins.