By LEW FREEDMAN
Wyoming hunters killed the established limit of 44 wolves during the state’s first gray wolf season since 2013.
Ken Mills, Game and Fish’s chief wolf biologist out of Pinedale, said the season that ran from October through Dec. 31 did not produce any significant surprises.
“It was mostly what we expected,” Mills said last week. “It got off to a really fast start in October, really slowed down in November, and it picked up again in December when it snowed.”
While the quota of 44 was hit exactly, it was reached in an inexact manner.
The total of 44 was matched, but the quota was one over in three areas and one under in three others.
Wyoming was able to supervise a hunt for the first time since 2013 after a federal court ruled earlier in 2017 the state’s management plan was acceptable.
It had previously been established the gray wolf in Wyoming was not endangered and G&F authorized hunts in 2012 and 2013. The hunting hiatus occurred during the court challenge.
The information from all hunt areas and what took place in the field goes to Mills for analysis. An evaluation report should be issued by April 1, he said.
That data will be used when setting future area quotas for a 2018 fall hunt.
“We’ll look at it as we go forward,” Mills said. “There might be talk about season dates.”
While hunters would consider the season a success, some of those who opposed any Wyoming wolf hunting continue to object.
The organization “Protect the Wolves,” a Native American non-profit group, issued its own analysis of the hunt, stating in extra-large letters, “Wyoming has needlessly slaughtered 44 possible Park wolves.”
That refers to the group’s belief the wolves could be some of those who roamed outside of Yellowstone National Park or Grand Teton National Park where they are protected and no hunting is allowed.
The group is lobbying for a buffer zone between the park boundaries and hunt areas.
Also cited were the deaths of 32 other wolves basically because of livestock killings or other confrontations.
“Protect the Wolves” has also asked for more stringent rules governing Wyoming hunts related to time-of-day, radio-collared wolves and other things.
“Our Sacred Yellowstone and Teton Wolf Brothers are being ruthlessly slaughtered in Wyoming,” the statement said. “Our Sacred Grizzly Brother will be next.”
A hoped-for meeting with G&F director Scott Talbott did not occur.
“The only language (the) Wyoming Game and Fish director will understand will be that coming from a judge,” the statement added.
Now that the hunt is over, G&F is beginning its regular monitoring of the wolf population, starting this month in northwest Wyoming.
Hunting is part of the state’s overall management plan and so is the monitoring.
Helicopters are used and they employ “net gunning,” in the words of Dan Thompson, large carnivore supervisor out of Lander.
Specially designed nets are propelled from a gun to land over wolves. The wolves are darted, fitted with radio collars and biological samples taken.
In some cases, wolves are trapped, Thompson said. Where trapping is involved, signs are posted warning hikers, people with pets or land owners in the area.
This work was assumed by G&F from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service after the court ruling and is the first time in a couple of years the department has been charged with the task.
“We have to demonstrate the population is meeting recovery standards,” Thompson said.
Mills said all of this information – and more, such as the livestock depredation by wolves – is fed into the decision-making process in setting hunting seasons.
“What can we do to adjust to make things better?” Mills said of the process. “There could be minor adjustments.”