Gov. Mark Gordon recently signed into law three predator-related bills previously passed by the Wyoming Legislature.
They included Senate File 178, which allows for houndsmen to pursue mountain lions outside of regular hunting seasons. There’s also House Bill 104, allowing for night hunting of coyotes and other predatory animals on public land, and House Bill 188, which expands the area for compensation claims for wolf livestock kills to include the entire state.
All three measures take effect on July 1.
SF 178 will provide Wyoming’s mountain lion hunting hounds some much-needed practice, proponents of the bill argued during previous discussions.
The problem, they said, is that mountain lion hunting seasons are usually over quickly. And because that the law as it stands forbids the pursuit of mountain lions outside of regular hunting season, houndsmen weren’t getting enough training time with their dogs.
The new regulations will allow hunters with hounds to chase and tree mountain lions outside of hunting seasons. However, they’ll have to gather their hounds and go away, leaving the big cats unharmed. Killing mountain lions will still be allowed only during designated hunting seasons.
In addition to keeping the dogs sharp, the new regulation should also “train” mountain lions to avoid people and livestock, proponents argued.
There was some whimsical exchange during one discussion of SF 178 in the Wyoming House on Feb. 16.
“Are we sure the dogs just aren’t sick of chasing cats?” asked Wyoming House Minority Whip Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie.
“I can’t let that one go,” Rep. Chip Neiman, R-Hulett, responded jovially. “Dogs never get tired of chasing cats. It’s as natural as peas and carrots.”
Hunting coyotes after dark with night vision scopes, spotlights and other such equipment is currently allowed only on private land with the landowner’s permission.
The passage of HB 104 will expand that to include public land. During some testimony before legislative committees, detractors said that setting night-vision hunters loose on public land could cause safety problems.
However, backers of the bill claimed that all of Wyoming’s neighboring states currently allow public land night coyote hunting, and there haven’t been any major mishaps or accidental shootings of people as a result.
Some also noted that the required equipment is expensive, and can take time for shooters to master.
During testimony on. January 19 before the House Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee, avid Wyoming coyote hunter Devan Reilly said he spent $15,000 to outfit himself for night hunting on private property where he has permission to do so.
“There’s a heck of a learning curve to taking up a thermal scope,” he said.
Compensation for ranchers who lose livestock to wolves is currently available only in the “trophy game zone” designated by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
That’s the area immediately adjacent to Yellowstone Park, where wolves may be killed only during designated hunting seasons and within
g bag limits.
The rest of Wyoming, or about 85 percent of the state, is considered a “predator zone” for wolves by Game and Fish. Wolves may be killed there at any time, with no bag limit.
However, no compensation for livestock killed by livestock was available in the predator zone. In that 85% of the state, it’s roughly estimated that there are 39 wolves, five active packs and one breeding pair, said Game and Fish Director Brian Nesvik.
Testifying on January 31 before the House Agriculture, State and Public Lands and Water Resources Committee, southwest Wyoming sheep rancher Laura Pearson said that needed to change.
She said her family’s ranch had been hit hard by wolves.
“We used to run about 14,000 ewes. Now we are running 740 ewes,” she said. “We’re not completely out of the sheep business, but we pretty much are, and it’s because of the wolves.”