Hoback wolf

A young male wolf lays sedated in the Hoback Canyon in early 2018 as part of Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s annual census of the population. The agency has proposed reductions in hunting quotas across the state this year.

Biologists in charge of Canis lupus in Wyoming assessed the fewest wolves since hunting began seven years ago, and in response they are rolling back quotas in almost all areas where the species is carefully managed.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s proposed wolf hunting season for 2019 targets a total of 33 animals, down over 40% from the 58 wolves that were targeted in the state’s trophy-game area one year ago. The goal of the 2019 wolf season remains the same: to strive for 160 wolves in the region Wyoming allows wolves to persist in. In 85% of the Equality State, the large canines continue to be classified as predators that can be killed indiscriminately.

“We’re actually proposing a population increase of eight wolves,” said large carnivore biologist Ken Mills, who heads Game and Fish’s wolf program.

The state agency will hold a public meeting about its wolf hunting season at 6 p.m. Thursday at Teton County Library.

Jackson Hole is an area of Wyoming that saw some dramatic swings in wolf population dynamics over the last two years. A case in point is the Gros Ventre River drainage, which went from being called the most wolf-dense landscape in Wyoming outside Yellowstone National Park in 2017 to holding just a handful of animals last winter. In step with the declines, Mills and his colleagues opted to dial back the hunting pressure in an expansive area that encompasses the Gros Ventre and spills into the Upper Green River drainage. The quota under the proposed regulations the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission is scheduled to review July 18 and 19 in Rock Springs is being shaved to seven wolves, down from 15 a year ago.

A boundary change that would combine two Teton County hunt zones is designed to give hunters more flexibility, Mills said. An area that runs through the Teton Wilderness will be joined with a zone on the west slope of the Tetons, the latter of which has never been the site of a registered wolf kill. In the two zones combined, a total of three wolves could be hunted.

Mills also pulled back the quotas in other Jackson Hole hunting zones. In area 10, which is southeast of Jackson and covers areas such as Horse Creek and the Gros Ventre Wilderness, the cap on hunter kills was slashed from five animals to two.

Wolf hunting zone 12, which extends south from Highway 22 into the Snake River and Wyoming ranges, holds steady at a maximum of two wolves that can be killed. This area reverts to a free-fire predator zone where wolves can be killed without rules for much of the year.

East of Togwotee Pass, a change would extend the wolf hunting season deep into the winter. Wyoming wolf hunting seasons have always rolled to a close in conjunction with the calendar year, but there’s a proposal to allow hunters to keep at it deep into the winter in zone 13, located south of Dubois in the Wind River Range. The reasoning is to discourage wolves from localizing in choice winter range used by the Whiskey Mountain Bighorn Sheep Herd, which has struggled to recover from past bouts of pneumonia. Notably, there has never been a confirmed instance of a wolf killing a Whiskey Mountain sheep.

Game and Fish had internal discussions last year about lowering the targeted overall wolf population closer to the basement numbers the federal government agreed to when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife ceded management to the state: 100 animals and 10 breeding pairs. Aiming for 160 wolves gives Mills 95% confidence that wolves won’t drop below the breeding pair threshold.

Wolves had a rough go of it over the last year. Numbers fell to 152 animals where Wyoming has control, down 23% due to disease outbreaks, hunting, lethal conflicts and a slow reproductive year.

“I can tell you, this year we were adamant we were staying at 160,” Mills said. “Last year showed why we’ve been making that decision all along — because some years are going to be low.”

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Contact Mike Koshmrl at 732-7067 or env@jhnewsandguide.com.

Mike has reported on the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem's wildlife, wildlands and the agencies that manage them since 2012. A native Minnesotan, he arrived in the West to study environmental journalism at the University of Colorado.

(6) comments

Anne Vallery

I'm trying to understand wolf hunting. What do the hunters do with the dead wolves?

Ken Chison

Well Anne. Like any trophy, we might have the hides tanned, made into rugs to adorn our trophy rooms, or have them life sized mounted to wow visitors. A true trophy indeed.

Marion Dickinson

The other question is why anyone wants to use the wolves to destroy other folks livestock and the ungulates in the wild that most of us enjoy.....and they don't offer to pay for the losses that fall to food producing families.

Maximilian Werner

I don't think Ken fully understands what you're asking, Anne. Look here: https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/11/20/why-mostly-men-trophy-hunt-a-biocultural-explanation/

Ken Chison

Says an "assistant" lecturer who has not quite proven themself noteworthy, due to the fact they inject emotion and personal beliefs into a topic they either know nothing about, or, try persuading people's opinions. A classic weapon used by Saul Alinsky to try to discredit anyone with a differing view. Along with demonizing their character and belief, then outright lying about the person to try and discredit them as well. Nice work Max. The left would be so proud of you!

Eric Wieland

Anne, a very valid question. I target wolves here in Idaho. The reason is because in Idaho our wolf numbers are completely out of control. When the USFS initially re-introduced wolves here their biologists said that the entire state of Idaho could support 6 packs or 90 wolves. We are now at 783 wolves at last count and our ungulate population is suffering severely because of it. I am not a kill-em-all type of wolf trapper. I believe in having some around. They are good for the balance of life. But there is definitely a such thing as too many, and like everything they need to be managed. Wyoming needs to keep their numbers in check before they explode to levels that will be uncontrollable. In Idaho we are fighting their numbers just to help save the remaining elk and moose that we do have. Our deer are doing just fine but have moved away from the higher elevations where wolves typically live and now reside in the valleys causing lots of destruction to farmers' crops. Elk have adapted to leave the highlands where the wolves live and are also wreaking havoc on farmers' livelihoods. The moose tend to winter in the mountains in wolf country and are sitting ducks (so to speak) for wolves over the winter. I find a lot of moose kills (as well as elk kills) that are from wolves in winter. And our ungulate populations are suffering. For me, personally, it isn't about the trophy of a wolf. It is about helping to keep their populations from expanding to the point where they are out of control.

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