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WY: Wolf hunt starts slow

By Mike Koshmrl
Jackson Hole Daily

Several days into the first legal Wyoming wolf hunt in 2 1/2 years, it appears the carnivores have so far duped anyone who has taken the initiative to give pursuit.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department gained control of the state’s wolf population Tuesday and by midday Friday had not yet received a single report of a hunter-killed wolf. Crummy weather this week across much of the northwestern part of the state, where Canis lupus roams, may have played a role in lack of initial hunter success, Non-Typical Outfitters owner Robb Wiley speculated.

“Looking at the weather, it’d be impossible,” Wiley said. “You can’t even see.”

Even if there had been clear skies over his Salt River Range and Wyoming Range hunting grounds, Wiley guessed there would be few wolves hitting the ground with inadequate snow for good tracking but enough to complicate getting around.

The hunting guide based that judgment on experience: Over the years he has killed one wolf on his neighbor’s Alpine cow pasture and another while hunting on his own in southeastern Idaho. But when he has attempted to take clients afield in pursuit of the intelligent carnivores the end result has always been the same — nothing.

“Wolf hunting is never really good,” Wiley said. “It is the most difficult hunt that exists. I know hunters that have spent decades in pursuit of wolves in Canada and Alaska before they were successful.

“That’s why the harvest rates are low,” he said. “It’s not a story — it’s that challenging.”

Five years ago, the last time wolves were taken off the endangered species list, hunters purchased 2,153 licenses. Just a shade over 1 percent — 23 hunters — were successful. Another 40-some wolves were killed that year in the predator zone, where no license is necessary and there are virtually no rules governing wolf hunting.

Right now the free-fire zone begins just south of Highway 22.

Wolf hunters who dispatch an animal in that open portion of Wyoming have 10 days to report their kill. Game and Fish large carnivore biologist Ken Mills pointed out that the lack of reports the first few days are therefore not all that meaningful.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet released its annual monitoring report estimating wolf populations and showing the whereabouts of Wyoming’s wolf packs. The prior year’s estimate, 382 wolves statewide, was the highest since the species was reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park in 1995 and ’96.

Mills said wolf packs have likely spread outward at a fast rate during the absence of hunting, which from 2012 to 2014 limited population growth. Record levels of conflict around the periphery of wolf range in 2016 corroborate the claim.

“When wolves were being hunted there might have been a few packs a year trying to establish in the predator area,” Mills said. “This time around, it happened much faster. Instead of a trickle of wolves out there, it was a lot of wolves moving out there very quickly.”

Opportunity to kill a wolf in the predator zone, in other words, is there.

In Wyoming’s trophy game management area, where the majority of the state’s wolves reside, the species figures to have a reprieve of gunfire for a while longer. While the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has not yet authorized a hunting season, a hunt is expected and likely to begin in October.