Wyoming Wolf Count Predicted to Stay at About 300
POSTED: WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 29, 2014 4:30 AM
It has been more than month since wolf hunting in Wyoming was prohibited by a federal judge, but wildlife managers aren’t expecting major changes to the population of the state’s lobos, last estimated at 306.
For the roughly two years wolf hunting was legal, sportsmen and their rifles and traps were easily the largest cause of mortality for the species, recently brought back under federal protection. But the resilient carnivores have absorbed losses, and Wyoming’s wolf population has stayed about steady.
“I would not expect some day-and-night difference all the sudden,” said Mike Jimenez, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s management and science coordinator for wolves in the Northern Rockies.
With a hunt more than a dozen of the canids would likely have been killed by hunters so far this season. Instead of hunting, the largest cause of mortality for wolves is expected to be animals that are killed by wardens in response for killing livestock.
Of 109 wolves that are known to have died statewide last year, 62 were killed by hunters and 33 were “controlled” by managers because of their depredations, Wyoming’s annual wolf report shows.
People still cause wolf deaths
The remaining 14 died naturally, were killed by non-hunting humans or died from unknown causes.
The status of wolves is usually estimated and summarized once a year and released in an report published in April.
Monthly reports by Game and Fish indicate that 24 livestock-killing wolves were eliminated from January to September. Another 21 were hunted in the first nine months of the year in Wyoming’s regulation-free predator zone before hunting was banned.
Jimenez said he was unaware of any wolves that had died since jurisdiction of the carnivore switched from the state to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We’ve controlled them over the years, so we don’t have packs in places where there are chronic, chronic problems,” he said.
Before hunting Wyoming wolves became legal in October 2012 the population was “very stable,” Jimenez said. Some years numbers would rise, but then would fall, he said.
“My guess would be that you’re going to see the same pattern,” Jimenez said. “It’s going to be fairly stable.”
Federal officials have told Game and Fish that it may take two years to reauthorize the state’s wolf management plan. Until then wolves are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Poached wolf investigated
A lone wolf has been killed illegally since Aug. 23, the day judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled partially in favor of conservation groups, prompting the species’ status change.
The poaching occurred in northwest Wyoming, but in an area outside of Jackson Hole, Fish and Wildlife law enforcement agent Terry Thibeault said.
Details of the poaching are scant, and Thibeault declined to share specifics of the case. The investigation has not been publicized.
Wolf poachings from the first nine and a half months of the year would have been tracked and investigated by Game and Fish, Thibeault said.
One Bondurant outfitter maintains that the political status of wolves has little bearing on how they’re treated when they happen across a hunter in the field.
“I guarantee you,” said Sam Coutts, “if a guy’s out there right now and he’s been hunting this country for years … if he’s by himself there’s no doubt in my mind that some of these guys are just going to shoot one and walk off. And that’s a shame, because we should be harvesting them.”
Coutts said he was aware of one situation this fall in which someone disregarded the law and shot and killed a large canine. But it was a mistake: The poacher shot someone’s dog and not a wolf, he said.
The dog was shot about 10 days ago in the Cliff Creek drainage, a tributary of the Hoback River, Coutts said Tuesday.
The dog’s owner could not be reached by the News&Guide by press time.
“He was a rangy bastard, looked just like a wolf,” Coutts said. “But anyway, somebody hosed him.
“He [the owner] should have put a damn vest on him,” he said, “like I told him.”