By BOB MOEN
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Seventy-six wolves were killed by hunters and others in Wyoming last year when the state resumed its management of the animals.
Ken Mills, lead wolf biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said 43 wolves were legally hunted and one illegally hunted in the state during a licensed hunting season from October through December.
That met the state’s hunting quota of 44 set by game managers.
“It got off to a pretty fast start in October and we closed a number of hunt areas early,” Mills said. “Then November was really quiet for the hunt areas that were open, and in December it picked back up, and I think probably snow had a part to do with it … which helps people with tracking and seeing wolves.”
About 2,500 hunting licenses were issued, meaning 1.7 percent of the license holders were successful in taking a wolf.
Mills said wolves are difficult to hunt because they are elusive and avoid people.
“So it’s hard to actually cross paths with one unless you really know a specific pack or put in a lot of time,” he said.
It was the state’s first licensed wolf hunting season since 2013. No licensed wolf hunting was allowed in Wyoming in the following years because wolves were placed under federal protection and management by a court ruling. A federal appeals court in 2017 lifted endangered species protection for wolves in Wyoming, allowing the state to take over management of the animals.
Mills said another 32 wolves were killed in 2017 in areas of the state where they are considered predators and can be killed without a license.
There are about 380 wolves in Wyoming. Wolves remain protected in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and on the Wind River Indian Reservation, and the state is committed to maintaining at least 100 wolves, including 10 breeding pairs, outside the parks and the reservation.
Areas adjacent to the parks are subject to a tightly controlled hunting season. However, in much of the rest of the state, wolves are considered predators that can be shot on sight without a license any time of the year.
Environmental groups have long taken issue with wolves being considered predators in Wyoming.
“In terms of ongoing policy problems, I guess I would still say that the most glaring one is that they treat wolves as vermin that can be shot on sight in 85 percent of the state,” Tim Preso, a lawyer with Earthjustice in Montana, said Friday. “If they want to do it in a rational way where they respond to conflicts or provide some kind of appropriate, responsible hunting regulation for wolves in certain areas, that makes sense, but to just throw the doors open and say go kill them whenever you want, however you want, that’s not something we’d ever support.”
Montana and Idaho also have wolf hunting seasons that have not been interrupted by legal challenges.