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WY: Wolf hunters near quotas

By Mike Koshmrl
Jackson Hole Daily

Wyoming wolf hunters’ window of opportunity is quickly closing, and their pursuit is now mostly confined to a few open zones in the Jackson Hole area.

Through Sunday, hunters had killed 42 of the 44 wolves allowed in the state’s first wolf hunt in three years, which kicked off in October and closes at the end of December. But because more wolves have been hunted than allowed in some areas, wildlife managers extended the season beyond when the 44th wolf is killed.

“We’re actually [five] away,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department lead wolf biologist Ken Mills said. “We don’t penalize other hunt areas for a different hunt area going over.”

The remaining open areas include lands in Teton County. One animal can still be hunted in a zone along the west slope of the Teton Range that runs from Teton Pass to Yellowstone National Park. The timbered, mountainous area has few wolf packs and has never produced a hunter-killed animal, Mills said.

One wolf can still be killed in an area that encompasses the Teton Wilderness, and the same goes for one that includes the Leidy Highlands and the land between Grand Teton National Park and Wilson.

The only other remaining area is a “flex” unit that oscillates between a managed hunt area from Oct. 15 to Dec. 31, a no-hunting wolf-dispersal territory from Jan. 1 through Feb. 28, and a zone where wolves can be killed indiscriminately and without limit from March 1 to Oct. 14. Two wolves can still be killed in the area, which extends from Highway 22 and Wilson south to well into the Wyoming Range.

Since a judge returned wolves to state jurisdiction this spring, 30 have been killed outside the managed 5.3-million acre “trophy game” zone in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Wyoming classifies wolves as predators outside of the trophy game area, so there are no hunting quotas or limits in the rest of the state.

Although hunters have almost hit their quotas, Mills pointed out that success rates have been “pretty low.” The biologist estimated that 2,500 wolf hunting licenses were sold this year, which means less than 2 percent of hunters killed an animal.

On its face, hunting appears to have had the effect of reducing wolf conflict.

A year ago, 25 wolf packs killed 243 sheep, cattle and horses statewide — the highest toll since Canis lupus was reintroduced in 1995. Those depredation numbers are much lower this year, but Mills’ hunch is that lethal retribution taken by federal managers has had more of an effect than hunting.

“Our hunting seasons this year would have occurred after the majority of the livestock conflict would have occurred,” Mills said. “I’d look at the fact that the Fish and Wildlife Service killed 113 wolves last year in control actions.”

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