Legal wolf hunting to occur for the first time in 2 1/2 years.
By Mike Koshmrl
About a week from now, or perhaps a little bit longer, a wolf spotted on a mountainside south of Teton Pass will go from being a fully protected animal to one that’s treated as vermin. The switch will occur overnight.
Following years of legal quarreling and wolves’ on-again, off-again listing under the Endangered Species Act, the canines are again about to become a species Wyoming is allowed to manage.
The state’s “dual-classification” system — a mix of a free-fire “predator zone” and managed “trophy game” area — is positioned to be the law of the land because of a recent U.S. Court of Appeals’ opinion that affirmed the legality of Wyoming’s management plan.
A timely transition to state management was threatened by the prospect of a conservation group’s petition for a rehearing, but Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso said that is not in the works.
“We are not seeking rehearing on that decision,” Preso said Monday.
The attorney, representing several nationwide environmental advocacy groups, suggested the threat of legislation was a motivation for not pressing the case on Wyoming wolf management.
“The end of the court process should also mean the end of political efforts to get some kind of a wolf delisting rider through Congress,” Preso said, “because the courts have addressed this issue conclusively and Wyoming is going to be able to resume jurisdiction.”
Wyoming’s U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney is a sponsor of the legislation, though it’s unclear if she intends to continue to pursue it with wolves on the brink of state management. The legislation proposed would prohibit future legal challenges. Cheney’s media representative, Joseph Jackson, did not respond to email and phone inquiries Monday and Tuesday.
Wyoming, for now, is standing behind the legislative effort, Gov. Matt Mead’s policy advisor David Willms said.
“Right now we support it,” Willms said, “because right now we don’t have a delisted wolf population.”
Monday marked 45 days since the appeals court came down in favor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Wyoming. That was the deadline for a rehearing request, after which there was to be a seven-day period in which the courts had to make a decision.
Willms’ interpretation was that 52 days from the March 3 decision — this coming Monday — wolves will revert to Wyoming management. Some hoops, he said, could remain, such as if the district court that ruled in favor of conservation groups in 2013 needs to do anything.
“Procedurally, we’re still working through that,” Willms said. “Until we receive final word that [delisting] is actually happening, we’re operating as though they’re still a listed species. We keep telling folks to wait.”
Once word does arrive, wolves in the predator zone, 85 percent of the state, will be subject to the quickest change. In the Jackson Hole area, the predator zone is roughly bounded by the highways to Pinedale and Alpine, except from March to October when a “flex” area south Highway 22 in the Snake River Range becomes country where wolves can be killed indiscriminately.
Wolves in the trophy game area will also be managed differently in the near term, although likely not subject to hunting pressure until fall. Conflicts with livestock and research, Willms said, will again be handled by Wyoming in the zone, which is primarily confined to the mountain ranges in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem core.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has not yet begun to set a hunting season in the trophy game area, spokesman Renny MacKay said.
“We’re still just in a holding pattern right now,” he said.
The authorization to hunt wolves at all in the trophy game area will first have to be cleared through the Administrative Procedures Act, MacKay said. Then the state agency would have to navigate the “season setting” process to set hunting quotas and other regulations — all of which must undergo public review and receive Game and Fish Commission approval.