Moving forward: Commission approves wolf management, hunt seasonsWritten by Christy Martinez
The April 25 meeting was the latest in a series of events that began in July 2011 when Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, the U.S. Department of the Interior and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reached an agreement on gray wolf management.
Most recently, a 46-day comment period was held in the state after draft regulations were posted March 9. The comment period included nine public meetings where the recommended draft regulations were presented. Three of those meetings were broadcast via the internet, and one additional meeting was conducted online only.
At the close of public comment, 74 written comments had been received by the Commission, and most were in support of the draft regulations as written – 68 percent were in support, and 32 percent were opposed.
“The main themes in those comments that opposed the regulation were the minimum population requirements, concern over the 72-hour reporting period, concerns about definitions, concerns about how the Department will determine unacceptable impacts to ungulates and general opposition to methods to take wolves,” said Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) Division Chief Brian Nesvik in his presentation to the Commission.
“Of those who were in support, the concerns were over a desire for higher quotas, large predator impacts on big game, reporting requirements in the back country and wolf impacts on livestock,” he continued.
While the Chapter 21 rules have been revised from what already existed to comply with new state statute and the updated Wyoming Wolf Management Plan, WGFD Large Carnivore Supervisor Mark Bruscino said the regulations regarding wolf hunt seasons are plowing new ground.
“We’ve never had a wolf hunting season in Wyoming, and Chapter 47 complies with state statutes and meshes with the wolf management plan,” he said.
Chapter 47 describes methods, quotas, seasons, hunt areas and reporting requirements, and applies only to wolves designated as trophy game, but it does mention the reporting of wolves taken in the predator zone, and the surrender of tracking devices.
“The public still has to report wolves killed in the predator area within 10 days,” said Bruscino. “They don’t have to bring them in for check-in or retrieve them from the field, but they do have to report the taking of those wolves.”
There are 12 wolf hunt areas, five of which are smaller areas around Grand Teton National Park that total 15 cumulative wolves and are designed to break up the quota around the park.
Commissioner Richard Klouda expressed concern over the importance of obtaining genetic samples, even from wolves killed in the predator area.
“Do you think as a department that we are doing enough to emphasize to the folks who will hunt in the predator area exactly how critical it is that they work exceptionally hard to get us that information?” he asked.
Bruscino said samples were emphasized in the public meetings, and that he thinks the livestock community understands the importance of those samples and will get the message across to its members. In addition, the WGFD will notify local predatory boards of the information’s importance.
“The segment of the public that will be really hard to get to is the general sportsmen; we have to tell them time and again that we need this stuff. I think the ag community, predator boards and Wildlife Services are all on board with us,” he stated. “We’ll make a big push to get these samples.”
Filling the quota
Of whether or not he expects to fill the 52-wolf quota 100 percent this year, Bruscino said he thinks wolves will be killed quickly this first year.
“People will be interested, and they’ll know where they are, and the wolves won’t be savvy from being hunted,” he said. “A lot of northwest Wyoming is open habitat, so you can see wolves farther and glass for them, and some of the area is very accessible. I think we’ll get a lot of those 52 harvested this first year. Certainly, they will change behavior once they’re hunted, like all species.”
At the close of the Chapter 21 and Chapter 47 discussion, the Commission took public comments, all of which was in favor of passing the two rules. The Commission passed both chapters unanimously.
Determining wolf hunt quotas
To determine mortality quotas for the 2012 wolf hunt season, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department went to the literature and determined that 35 percent human-caused mortality – including hunting and removal for livestock depredation – would stabilize Wyoming’s wolf population.
“At the end of 2011 we had at least 192 wolves in the population,” said WGFD Large Carnivore Supervisor Mark Bruscino at the April 25 Wyoming Game and Fish Commission meeting. “If we subtract 35, or 18 percent of the population, for non-hunter harvest purposes, such as livestock depredation control, that leaves us with about 32 animals to harvest to stabilize the population.”
To reduce the population by about 10 percent, Bruscino said the WGFD added 20 wolves.
“That gave us a total mortality quota for northwest Wyoming of 52 wolves, which is a harvest mortality of 27 percent, and total human-caused mortality of 45 percent,” he explained.
Bruscino added that, in the literature, 45 percent is shown to be sustainable, and, since Wyoming has a goal of slightly reducing the population, he said this should bring the state pretty close to its goal.
After recruiting 76 wolves through 2012 reproduction, the WGFD expects total mortality at the end of 2012 of about 98 wolves, or about 51 percent of the population.
“That will land us at what we estimate to be 170 wolves and about 15 breeding pairs at the end of 2012,” stated Bruscino.