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How Many Wolves?

Written by Dennis Sun
        I will never forget an incident that took place a number of years ago while attending a wolf hearing in Cheyenne on the concept of bringing wolves to Yellowstone. During the comment period of the open house a sheep rancher from southwest Wyoming was in a discussion with a wolf advocate. As was to be expected, the rancher was emotionally charged. He ended up screaming at the wolf advocate, “How many wolves do you want in Wyoming, just tell me how many do you want?” The wolf advocate didn’t answer the question. To this day that question has never really been answered.
    This past week, the State Legislature’s Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Committee was wondering that same question. The panel needs to respond to the FWS decision to abandon its delisting decision. If they use Federal Judge Malloy’s ruling as the basis, the state will be looking at statewide trophy game classification and an assurance of genetic exchange.
    Shooting a wolf at any time in some parts of Wyoming is never going to be popular with wolf enthusiasts. They will always argue over that point. The genetic exchange issue is one that I think is really going to hurt Wyoming. The reason being that for a true genetic exchange all three states are going to have to provide a way for the wolves to travel between those states. Wolves do most of their wandering in the winter, and mountains like the Tetons are natural areas they have to travel around. So if we have to provide routes for the wolves to travel, how much land will that encompass?
    Are we back to some wanting to control more land? Is it really about the wolf, the mouse, the sage grouse and the pygmy rabbit? Look where we are with the wild and domestic horse issue – totally out of control at the moment.
    We have to ask ourselves which route best serves Wyoming at this juncture. Are we better off to just sit on our hands and see where FWS efforts shake out? In the meantime the federal government can foot the bill for wolf management. It’s also worth pointing out that the courts haven’t yet reviewed Idaho and Montana’s wolf plans. Who is to say a delisting proposal specific to those states will prevail?
    Through this whole process the playing field has really been rocky. What the government and others agreed to one day was changed another day. Wyoming can’t seem to wrap its arms around the issue without something changing. Let’s say we agree to all of the judge’s concerns and find a way to manage wolves. Will the other side agree not to seek legal challenge or want a more one-sided decision? We have not seen it in the past, have we? I don’t remember talking about genetic exchange the last time this whole subject was before the legislature.
    Let’s watch a while and see where things head. Everything we do always is appealed, challenged or abandoned by agencies we thought we were partnering with. I have always believed in taking the positive approach, but how do you make an informed decision with so little information on what the expectations truly are. Here we are again asking, “How many wolves do you really want?”
Dennis