Wyoming started killing wolves over the weekend
By CHRIS MERRILL
Star-Tribune environment reporter
Tuesday, April 1, 2008 2:06 AM MDT
LANDER -- At least three wolves were killed by Wyoming residents over the weekend, after the animal was removed from the federal endangered species list.
Large numbers of hunters reportedly prowled the state’s newly designated wolf predator area in Sublette County Friday, Saturday and Sunday, locals and outfitters said.
At least two wolves were killed near an elk feedground in the Pinedale area, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Another was killed, also in Sublette County, by a rancher, a local predator board member said.
The Star-Tribune received reports that a fourth wolf was possibly taken, also in Sublette County, but that kill has not yet been confirmed.
All three of the confirmed wolf kills happened in the Cowboy State’s newly designated predator zone for wolves, where the animals can be shot on sight without limits, as long as the time, location and sex of each kill is reported to the Game and Fish Department within 10 days.
Wolves were removed from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act on Friday, at which point the state of Wyoming took over management of the animals inside its borders.
Wolves in the state’s extreme northwest corner are now in the animal’s trophy game zone, and are still afforded some protection. Wolves in the rest of the state are considered predators, similar to coyotes.
Eric Keszler, spokesman for the Game and Fish Department, said the two wolf kills reported so far both happened Friday, about one to two miles west of the Jewett feedground outside of Pinedale. Both were gray-black, one male and one female.
One of the two near the feedground was wearing a tracking collar, said Scott Talbott, the Game and Fish official overseeing the state’s new wolf management program.
One rancher outside the trophy game zone killed a wolf Friday on his private property, said Cat Urbigkit, a member of the Sublette County Predator Board.
The rancher, who wanted to remain anonymous, was having problems with a wolf harassing his livestock, Urbigkit said. The predator board sent USDA Wildlife Services to assist the rancher, but he was able to kill the wolf on his own, she said.
Urbigkit, along with other locals, said there were a lot of hunters out over the weekend in Sublette County looking for wolves. Most of the 30 to 35 wolves outside the trophy game zone live in Sublette County.
“There has been a lot of excitement and interest for hunters in Sublette County,” Urbigkit said. “The predator board has nothing to do with that, but if the hunters are successful in their efforts, then hopefully the predator boards will not be called in on conflicts.”
The Sublette County Predator Board will not hunt wolves, she said, and will only respond when there is a conflict with livestock.
Terry Pollard, co-owner of Bald Mountain Outfitters, said he, too, knows many locals who went out wolf hunting over the weekend. He said most of them came back empty-handed.
“I think they’re finding just what we figured,” Pollard said. “These wolves are an extremely tough animal to hunt. There was a significant amount of hunters out this weekend, and very few of them were taken.”
The problem, however, is that many more wolves might have been killed and authorities don’t know about it yet, said Mike Leahy, the Rocky Mountain regional director of Washington, D.C.-based Defenders of Wildlife.
Because the predator area requirements allow people to wait 10 days before reporting wolf kills, the authorities who most need to know about the impact of the new wolf rules will be largely in the dark for days or even weeks, Leahy said.
“In a shoot-on-sight zone, a large number of the wolves could be killed before Wyoming Game and Fish or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service even knows about it,” Leahy said. “There could be big impacts to the wolf population that go underreported until it’s too late.”
Defenders of Wildlife is part of a coalition of 11 conservation groups that has notified the federal government about its intent to sue over the wolf delisting rule once the requisite 60-day waiting period is up at the end of April.
There are provisions built into the Endangered Species Act that theoretically allow citizens to seek an emergency injunction against a federal delisting decision, should sufficient need arise.
“It is too early to tell, but certainly if this number of wolves was killed in the first weekend, and this pace keeps up, we would certainly consider the emergency provisions,” Leahy said