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Wyoming wolves

Chicago Attorney-Turned-Activist Wants Fish & Wildlife Director Fired To Save Wyoming Wolves, Grizzlies

in News/Grizzly Bears/wildlife
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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

Firing the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could help save Wyoming wolves and grizzlies, according to a petition filed in U.S. District Court by a Chicago attorney turned environmental activist. 

USFWS Director Martha Williams isn’t fit for her job, which has led to shoddy management of and inadequate protection for wolves and grizzlies in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, according to a petition filed last month in U.S. District Court in Illinois by Robert Aland of Chicago.

Aland is no stranger to litigating over wildlife issues. He was involved in previous efforts to oppose state management policies of the large carnivores. Environmental activists claim the state’s policies are too heavy-handed and geared toward killing, rather than preserving, wolves and grizzlies.  

Aland’s latest petition also names as a defendant U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland.  

She’s Not A Scientist, Fire Her

Aland’s claim in the petition documents is straightforward: Williams is educated as an attorney, not a scientist. 

By law, the head of the USFWS must be educated and experienced in practicing science, according to the claim. Williams has experience in environmental and wildlife management law and litigation. However, that she’s not a scientist has tainted the process of deciding whether and to what degree wolves and grizzlies in the Northern Rockies should be federally protected. 

Aland and other environmentalists would like to see grizzlies remain under federal protection and to see full federal protection extended to wolves. 

Different Levels Of Protection

Grizzlies are federally protected in all three Greater Yellowstone states – Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. So, there are no legal hunting season for them. It is legal to kill a grizzly bear in self-defense. However, both state and federal game managers will investigate each killing to rule if it was legitimate self-defense. The penalties are steep for killings that are ruled illegal.

Many in Wyoming have called for grizzly hunting seasons in the Cowboy State. A season was set for fall 2018, but was halted by a federal injunction. 

Wolves also are fully protected in Yellowstone and Teton national parks. In the areas immediately outside the parks, the states allow licensed wolf hunting that is restricted by seasons and bag limits. 

Outside of the licensed hunting zone in Wyoming, wolves may be killed on sight at any time without licenses or bag limits. A return to full federal protection for wolves in Wyoming would drastically change management of them here. 

Other Lawsuits Pending

Grizzlies and wolves have been at the center of numerous lawsuits since the bears were granted federal protection in the 1970s and wolves were reintroduced into the Greater Yellowstone in the middle 1990s. 

Earlier this year, a lawsuit filed by an alliance of environmental groups claimed full endangered species protection should be given to wolves in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, ending wolf hunts in all three states.

More recently, the environmental group Wild Earth Guardians filed a lawsuit last month to halt Montana’s wolf hunts. 

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Colorado Wolves May Have Crossed Border And Then Shot In Wyoming

in Wyoming outdoors/News/Chancey Williams
Wolf 2202 from the North Park pack. It's the first wolf born and collared in Colorado.
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By Mark Heinz, Outdoors Reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

The sharp differences in Wyoming’s and Colorado’s wolf management policies may have meant death for three young female wolves from Colorado’s famed North Park pack, a Colorado wildlife official said. 

Three black “sub-adult” females were reported to have been killed legally in Wyoming near the Colorado border earlier this month, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CWP) spokesman Travis Duncan told Cowboy State Daily. 

“CPW does not have a way to confirm that the wolves killed in Wyoming were part of the North Park pack,” he said. 

“However, based on information that has been provided to us and proximity to Colorado, we believe it may have been part of the North Park pack,” he added. “It is not uncommon for the North Park pack to travel into and out of Wyoming.”

Colorado Pack Established Itself 

Colorado voters in 2020 passed a ballot initiative to have wolves reintroduced to that state by the end of 2023. 

However, wolves began moving into Colorado on their own a few years ago. The North Park pack began with a black female wolf that came from Wyoming’s Teton Park area in 2019. 

That wolf found a mate in Colorado and last year had Colorado’s first litter of wolf pups in 80 years.  

CWP biologists are monitoring the North Park pack to determine if any of its known members have disappeared, Duncan said. 

Biologists spotted at least two wolves in North Park on Saturday but couldn’t get close enough to confirm the animal’s ages and coloring, he said. They also heard wolves howling but couldn’t determine how many. 

Completely Different Policies 

In Colorado, wolves are classified as an endangered species. Killing a wolf there for any reason other than proven self-defense can result in a $100,000 fine, jail time and loss of hunting privileges, Duncan said. 

In Wyoming, wolves are completely protected only inside national parks. In some areas directly adjacent to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, they may be killed only by hunters holding wolf licenses and according to set hunting seasons and bag limits. 

Elsewhere across the state, wolves are considered a predator species and may be killed on sight at any time without a license or bag limits. That includes the area where the three young females were reportedly shot near the Colorado border. 

Not Connected To Attack On Horses

In another recent case, a landowner in the Gros Ventre region was issued a permit to kill some wolves that had attacked horses there, according to reports from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Those wolves were killed within the state’s licensed wolf hunting zone.

There’s no evidence that the wolves killed near the Wyoming-Colorado border had been involved in the attack on the horses, Duncan said. 

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Biologists Say Established Wolf Packs Outside of Wyoming’s Northwest Corner Are Unlikely

in News/wildlife
Photo by B. Von Hoffmann/Getty Images
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By Mark Heinz, public lands and wildlife reporter
Mark@CowboyStateDaily.com

About four years ago, Johnny Bergeson – an avid hunter and hunting guide from Laramie – watched a wolf from the cab his pickup. 

Bergeson, his pickup and the wolf were in southern Wyoming’s Wick/Beumee Wildlife Habitat Management Area.

“I was driving up the main road,” Bergeson told Cowboy State Daily. “He ran alongside the road, right in front of me, for quite a ways.” 

Bergeson has extensive experience hunting and guiding in backcountry regions with known established wolf packs, so he knows what he saw.  However, the management zone he was in that day is commonly called “Wagonhound” because of its proximity to the Wagonhound Rest Area near the Arlington Exit off of Interstate 80 between Laramie and Rawlins. 

In other words, he saw the wolf in nearly the opposite corner of the state from Wyoming’s established wolf habitat in the Greater Yellowstone area in the Northwest corner.   

Stories of wolves or fresh wolf sign from all across Wyoming have been circulating for years. Some are probably true, a Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist said. 

“Wolves dispersing out of suitable habitat in northwest Wyoming are capable of traveling long distances and have been documented in all regions of Wyoming, and in all surrounding states, through the years,” Ken Mills, the lead Game and Fish wolf biologist, said in an email to Cowboy State Daily. 

“There will sometimes be random sightings of individuals (lone wolves) in southeast Wyoming. Game and Fish gets a few reports every year in southwest/south central Wyoming but very, very few are verified,” he said. “Wolves have been down that way but it is not common. A single wolf moving through or a pair of wolves are not easy to document.” 

The nearest documented wolf packs to the Laramie area have been west of Casper, Mills said.  

Colorado Connection 

As part of the wider dispersal pattern Mills described, some wolves have settled in Colorado, where they remain mostly protected. So, it could be difficult to say whether the wolf Bergeson saw had traipsed all the way diagonally across Wyoming, or simply come north from Colorado. 

Moreover, Colorado voters in 2020 approved a measure to reintroduce wolves in areas of that state west of the Continental Divide, according to reports on Colorado Public Radio’s news website. The plan is to begin releasing reintroduced wolves there by the end of 2023, in hopes of establishing permanent packs. 

That would be similar to the Greater Yellowstone area wolf program, which used relocated wolves from Canada as a seed population in the mid-1990s. That has since blossomed into numerous established packs in Yellowstone National Park and adjacent parts of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. 

Inside the park, wolves are fully protected. Outside of it, all three states have established hunting zones, where licensed hunters may kill wolves according to bag limits and during set hunting seasons. In most of the rest of Wyoming beyond the controlled hunt zone, wolves may be killed on sight with no season or bag limit restrictions. 

So long as Wyoming’s shoot-on-sight law remains for most of the state, that will apply to wolves that might cross over from Colorado. So, it’s unlikely that Colorado’s anticipated packs will ever be able to establish a significant population in Southeast Wyoming, Mills said.

Lack of habitat will also be a factor, he said. 

“An expanding wolf population in Colorado could provide a source for dispersing wolves to move north into Wyoming,” he said. “However, there are no tracts of suitable habitat large enough to consistently sustain resident wolf packs outside the northwest corner of Wyoming.” 

Wanderlust 

Wolves will probably still occasionally show up in southeast Wyoming and across other regions of the state, Mills said. 

Young wolves in particular might strike out on their own and travel vast distances, he said. They’re more likely to take off if their home range becomes too crowded. 

“Wolves disperse from their natal territory at around two years of age and are primarily in search of breeding opportunities,” he said.  “Males disperse slightly more than females because female breeders are often recruited from within the pack; males are usually recruited from outside the pack.”   

One mated pair of wolves is known to have traveled separately from Wyoming before meeting in Colorado, Mills said. And a lone female from Wyoming made it all the way to the Grand Canyon.

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Wolf Pups Killed on Road Became Used to Humans, Officials Say

in News/wildlife
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By Wendy Corr, Cowboy State Daily

To many in northern and western Wyoming, wolves are now a part of everyday life. Ranchers, wildlife enthusiasts, backcountry hikers and Sunday drivers are conscious of the presence of wolves – even if they can’t be seen.

In November, two wolves in Yellowstone National Park were hit by a vehicle. 

The pair of black wolf pups from the Junction Butte Pack, one of the most visible packs in the Park, were struck on the road between the park’s northeast entrance and Tower Junction. 

According to park officials, the pups had become habituated to humans due to a number of hikers who violated the required 100-yard barrier between people and wolves. Because they had grown accustomed to humans, the pups had several close encounters with visitors – which eventually led to their deaths, as they started spending more time near the highway. Officials said they attempted to haze the wolves away from human hangouts, but were unsuccessful.

Ken Mills is a large carnivore biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department who focuses on the state’s wolf population. He said officials don’t often have to use hazing, because the animals tend to shy away from humans.

“We have tools such as cracker shells shot out of a shotgun or a specific cracker shell gun that explode and make noise, and we use those to haze different species,” he explained. “We do have available what we call ‘turbo fladry,’ which is an electrified single strand wire fence with red flags hanging off it, and those can be effective to keep wolves out of specific areas, say, a calving pasture. We’ve used flashing lights before.

“Any sort of negative interaction with a person would scare a wolf away,” he added.

Yellowstone National Park biologists report that there were at least 80 wolves in nine packs living primarily in the park at the end of December, 2018. 

According to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, that number is included in the total estimate of 286 wolves that reside within the state’s borders – which is down significantly from the 2017 count of 347, and is the fewest recorded since the department took over management of the species in 2012.

A total of 177 wolf mortalities were documented statewide in 2018, according to the Game and Fish Department. Mills said the decline in the population is due to a combination of factors.

“It’s partly hunting and there was some disease operating in the population, because it had been at high density for a number of years,” he said. “So that initial decrease in 2018 was from a combination of disease, from hunting, and from other human-caused mortality.”

In 2018, the Game and Fish Department implemented a wolf hunting season, with an objective of reducing the population to around 160 wolves in the Wolf Trophy Game Management Area. 

According to the 2018 annual report from the department, 90 percent of wolf deaths that year were human-caused, either through hunting, conflict control or predator control measures. The other 10 percent died of natural causes or the cause of death was unknown.

Despite the high mortality rate last year, Game and Fish reported that the wolf population is still significantly higher than the target number set by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“(The 2018 count) was near our population objective, which is quite a bit higher than the minimum recovery criteria, what we’re required to maintain following de-listing,” Mills pointed out. 

While hunting allows the Game and Fish Department to control the population, the novelty of wolves being present and visible in northwest Wyoming can itself pose a danger to the animals, as demonstrated in the deaths of the wolf pups this winter.

“Visitors must protect wolves from becoming habituated to people and roads,”  said Doug Smith, Yellowstone’s senior wolf biologist. “Stay at least 100 yards from wolves, never enter a closed area, and notify a park ranger of others who are in violation of these rules.”  

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