Jimenez discusses changes in wolf management for livestock producersWritten by Saige Albert
The story of wolves in Wyoming is long and wrought with frustration for many, and following a late-September ruling to reverse the delisting decision, wolves were put back on the Endangered Species List.
“The state of Wyoming does not have an approved plan to manage wolves based on the court decision,” says Mike Jimenez, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) wolf management and science coordinator. “It is unfortunately really ironic, because Wyoming was doing a good job managing wolves.”
Returning to 1994 10(j)
Jimenez explains that one of the frustrating aspects of wolves returning to endangered status is their management under the 1994 10(j) rule.
Under the Endangered Species Act, species can be classified as fully endangered, threatened or nonessential experimental, he notes.
“Wolves in Wyoming were always classified as a nonessential, experimental population,” he says. “They were never fully endangered, but they were on the Endangered Species List.”
The nonessential, experimental designation allowed more management flexibility for the FWS to remove wolves that caused problems to help ranchers protect their livestock, and in 1994, a 10(j) rule was written to allow FWS to do just that. The 10(j) rule allows for management of animals currently on the Endangered sSpecies List.
“It was very restrictive because we wanted to let populations grow,” Jimenez explains. “We weren’t going to have a lot of problems in the beginning because there weren’t very many wolves.”
Changes over time
Since 1994, Jimenez notes that wolf management has evolved and the 1994 10(j) rule was modified to accommodate changing populations.
“The 1994 10(j) is a restrictive rule,” Jimenez continues. “There were other amended 10(j) rules written in 2005 and 2008 that gave even more management flexibility, but Wyoming can’t use those amended 10(j) rules because they don’t have a FWS-approved management plan. So they are struck with the original 1994 rule.”
“When we had problems, we would allow ranchers to kill wolves or we would come in and get rid of wolves when we had to. It has worked reasonably well,” he says. “The population has done fine, and we have minimized problems.”
However, conflicts and controversies haven’t necessarily been eliminated .
“We have been allowed to protect livestock,” Jimenez says. “We have evolved over the past 15 years so that if wolves cause problems, we can address it.”
Despite the adjustments that were made since 1994 to accommodate growing wolf populations, Jimenez says the court decision means the 10(j) rule from 1994 applies across Wyoming.
“This is going to be frustrating,” he adds.
Though the winter months are often quieter, Jimenez notes that the largest number of wolf conflicts occur in the mid- to late summer months when many cattle and sheep producers have their livestock on BLM and Forest Service allotments.
“We will be very limited in what we can do regarding wolves killing livestock,” he says, “but we will do everything we can to resolve problems. It has always been our aim to help producers so they don’t have to pay the cost of wolves.”
Changes in management
Among changes in management, Jimenez notes that FWS can no longer issue shoot-on-sight permits to ranchers, as they have in the past.
“Now, for a rancher to shoot a wolf, the wolf must be caught in the act of actually attacking livestock,” he says. “We haven’t ever had someone do this in the entire 30-year program.”
FWS can remove wolves that chronically kill livestock, but the wolf must be at least a second offender.
Jimenez emphasizes that the 1994 10(j) rule only considers horses, mules, cattle and sheep as livestock. Animals like working dogs, guard dogs and others are not considered livestock. Non-livestock animal deaths will not result in wolf removal.
“If a rancher sees wolves attacking their dogs, there isn’t much they can do,” he explains. “We can harass wolves, but we cannot shoot wolves.”
“We can’t remove wolves as aggressively as we used to,” Jimenez says.
In addition, the “predator zone” for wolves has been removed.
Working with producers
“I really appreciate that producers haven’t come at us during this frustrating time,” Jimenez says, noting that ranchers have been very understanding through the process.
Today, Jimenez explains that FWS must meet a strict set of standards to remove wolves.
If producers have issues with wolves, Jimenez urges them to call FWS or USDA Wildlife Services.
“If a producer has dead livestock, they can call the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD), who can investigate the kill,” he says. “WGFD can be involved with livestock kills but not wolf management. We are trying to keep them as involved as much as possible.”
Jimenez also notes that FWS is looking forward to resolving the challenges that are associated with wolves.
“Some people are looking at congressional fixes, like in Montana and Idaho,” Jimenez says. “In Wyoming, the state has also appealed the ruling. FWS did not appeal the decision.”
FWS also continues to do monitoring and genetic sampling, as before.
“We don’t want producers to be caught up on the outside of all of this,” he adds. “They are just trying to protect their livestock.”
“Many people are frustrated, but they want to understand the rules and what to do,” Jimenez says. “If producers have problems, I would encourage them to let us know so we can advise people on how to react.”