By Mike Koshmrl
Jackson Hole Daily
Wyoming wildlife officials passed wolf hunting regulations Wednesday that unexpectedly tacked on the month of September to a fall season that runs through December.
The earlier and now 4-month hunt OK’d by the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission was not part of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s initial proposal. It was changed to give hunters more time to punch a tag on a notoriously hardto-kill species.
“The rationale is that we have a higher wolf-mortality quota,” Game and Fish wolf biologist Ken Mills said, “and there was a desire to add some time in there to open up flexibility for people to meet that mortality limit.
“We’ve got a lot of hunters in the field in September,” he said.
Asked if the change emanated from carnivore managers, Mills said it sprung from Game and Fish’s overarching “wildlife division.”
Game and Fish commissioners also approved an increase in the number of wolves a hunter can kill from one to two, a liberalization included in the original proposal.
This fall, Game and Fish will target more wolves, 58, than in any other hunting season since the state took control of the formerly threatened canine. Managers also tweaked hunt area boundaries and boosted quotas with a goal to kill more wolves in the Gros Ventre River drainage and near the Dubois area’s Whiskey Mountain.
The higher planned harvest — which is 32 percent more than last fall’s quota of 44 — was instated because the 2017 hunt failed to drive down wolf numbers to the degree managers sought. The population goal in Wyoming’s “trophy game” hunting area is 160 animals.
Outside this area in Wyoming’s northwest corner, wolves are deemed a predator that can be killed indiscriminately — a classification that’s set in statute and did not change.
The wolf population in both places where Wyoming allows hunting fell from 285 to 238 in 2017. The statewide number, including Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation wolves, dropped from 377 to 347.
One wildlife advocacy group spoke out against Wyoming’s approval of a more intensive wolf hunt.
“The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Commission continue to focus on reducing the wolf population toward the bare minimum,” Defenders of Wildlife’s Jonathan Proctor said in a statement. “Rather than increase the number of wolves to be killed, Wyoming should improve outreach on the important role of wolves in the state and further promote the use of coexistence techniques that prevent conflicts.”
The age that wolf pups will be come Sept. 1 — about 4 1/2 months, on average — has “always been a part” of the discussion about season timing, Mills said. There are no rules prohibiting hunters from killing younger wolves in Wyoming. Such a policy, he said, would be tough to abide by because “hunters aren’t well-versed at identifying the difference” between ages of an animal that’s hard to see in the first place.
Wolf hunting seasons in neighboring Montana and Idaho already started in September or earlier and were also longer running. Rifle season for wolves in the Treasure State starts Sept. 15 and ends March 15. Idaho’s seasons vary depending on area, but they generally start in August and go through the winter.
“Idaho has regions where they have year-round hunting seasons on private land,” Mills said. “Ours is by far still the most conservative.”