BEN NEARY | Associated Press
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — At least four wolves have been killed in Wyoming since the state kicked off its second formal hunting season this week in a trophy zone bordering Yellowstone National Park.
Wyoming has cut in half the quota of wolves available for hunters in the trophy zone this year compared to last, from 52 down to 26.
Alan Dubberley, spokesman for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said Wednesday that hunters have reported killing four wolves in the hunting zone since Tuesday.
The state classifies wolves outside the trophy area as predators that may be shot on sight. No hunting is allowed within Yellowstone.
Dubberley said hunting will remain open through the end of the year or until hunters reach the quota. He said many hunters going after elk or other game pick up a wolf tag in case they come across one in the field.
The federal government last year ended federal protection for wolves in Wyoming. But conservation groups have filed lawsuits in Wyoming and Washington, D.C., to challenge the action.
Wyoming had about 192 wolves in the trophy hunting zone going into last year's hunt, Dubberley said. Hunters killed 42 wolves in Wyoming last year, the state's first wolf hunting season since the federal government reintroduced wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem in the 1990s.
The game department predicts the population in the trophy hunting zone will be at least 160, including 13 to 15 breeding pairs, at the end of this year's hunting season, Dubberley said.
“The quota for this year is 26, and the reason it's lower is we're not really attempting to reduce the population to the extent we were last year,“ Dubberley said. “We're wanting to have a slight reduction this year, but really just wanting to maintain that level.“
In taking over wolf management from the federal government, Wyoming committed to maintaining at least 10 breeding pairs of wolves and at least 100 individual animals outside of Yellowstone and the Wind River Indian Reservation, in the central part of the state.
The game department considers other factors, in addition to hunting, that kill wolves when it sets hunting quotas, Dubberley said.
Even as the state allows wolf hunting, environmental groups continue to challenge the decision to end federal protection for Wyoming wolves.
Tim Preso, a Montana lawyer, represents a coalition of environmental groups challenging the wolf delisting in the pending Washington, D.C., case. He said Wednesday the case is at a point where the judge could rule at any time whether it was proper for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to turn over wolf management to Wyoming.
“We would like to get a ruling as soon as possible,“ Preso said.
The environmental groups argue that allowing wolf hunting in Wyoming raises concerns about the ability of the wolf population in Yellowstone to maintain connections with other wolf populations in the northern Rockies, Preso said.
“We've raised a number of issues concerning the adequacy of Wyoming's legal safety net for wolves in the absence of Endangered Species Act protections,“ Preso said. “And we'd like to get those ruled on as soon as possible because we're obviously heading into another hunting season, and we're going to be heading into another season of peak wolf disbursal over the winter.“
Cheyenne lawyer Harriet Hageman represents the Wyoming Wolf Coalition, which includes several Wyoming county governments and agricultural and sportsmen groups that have entered the litigation to support wolf hunting.
“I think that Wyoming's wolf management plan obviously is appropriate and necessary to protect our other industries as well as to protect the wolf population, so I think we're on the right track with that,“ Hageman said.