Wolves in Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park. Credit: Scott Kublin/Flickr
Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) announced that Wyoming’s population of gray wolves had recovered enough to be removed from the protection of the Endangered Species Act. Effective Sept. 30, the wolves will be managed under Wyoming’s state management plans. For a species that was extinct in the region from the 1930s until its reintroduction in the mid-1990s, this announcement should be heartening news. Instead, it has left many conservation groups, including American Forests, with grave concerns about how the delisting will affect the species’ long-term recovery.
The FWS reports that the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population is at 1,774 adult wolves with more than 109 breeding pairs — all numbers that federal biologists feel indicate the species’ full recovery. According to the FWS announcement of the delisting, Wyoming’s state management plan would follow statutory and regulatory standards by managing for a buffer above minimum target population numbers; its goals are to maintain at least 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs within Wyoming — numbers far smaller than the current wolf population.
As part of the state management plan, the wolves will be eligible to be hunted beginning Oct. 1, with varying degrees of regulation. Hunting the wolves will be prohibited in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, and no hunting will be allowed in John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway, the National Elk Refuge and the Wind River Reservation in 2012 — although these prohibitions could change in subsequent years. In Wyoming’s Trophy Game Area, up to 52 wolves can be hunted in 2012. In all other areas of the state, it’s open season on gray wolves — with a management plan that is too vaguely written to deliver on its promise of protecting the population from overhunting.