Management agencies deal with wolf impacts on livestock, wildlife in western WyoWritten by Joy Ufford
Bondurant – Wolves killed a fifth beef calf in Hoback Basin in mid-February, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) confirmed the following day.
The protected wolves also continue to target elk, killing about 50 wintering on Bondurant’s two feedgrounds under Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) management.
FWS Wolf Program Manager Mike Jimenez confirmed the recent livestock kills, and FWS, with the USDA Wildlife Services (WS), has targeted the Dell Creek pack.
In February, Jimenez estimated the pack at 10 to 12 wolves and the Hoback Basin’s Rim Pack at seven to eight animals. However, WS spotted 16 wolves in the western pack last week and killed five total in the general area of the cattle, leaving 11, he said in an email updating the count.
“The Dell Creek pack uses this area and was located the following afternoon very close to where the recent livestock was killed,” he said Feb. 24. “We put radio collars in that pack early this winter. We have requested WS to remove three wolves, which will probably happen within the next week. Every attempt will be made to not remove radio-collared wolves so that we may continue to monitor the pack.”
In the case of livestock kills, FWS can authorize wolves’ removal, and WGFD compensates ranchers for confirmed wolf-kill losses.
It’s a different scenario when the kills are wildlife, even at WGFD elk feedgrounds, where neither the state nor the federal agency can do much but keep count.
Feeders at Hoback Basin’s Dell Creek and McNeel feedgrounds have reported wolf-killed elk through this winter with a handful on Dell Creek and the vast majority at the McNeel site on private property leased by WGFD. Both are adjacent to wintering cattle, horses and other livestock.
“I don’t have the exact numbers, but we are estimating about 40 to 50 elk have been killed by wolves this winter at the Bondurant area feedgrounds,” said John Lund, WGFD Pinedale regional wildlife supervisor.
He said the kills don’t show a preference for young or old animals, adding, “There’s a little bit of everything in there.”
Lund said a lot of elk are wintering away from the feedgrounds, perhaps due to wolves’ presence or in part because of the relatively mild winter.
“It was a different year for sure,” Lund said of the elk killings. “We’re unsure if that’s going to be a long-term thing or not.”
However, he noted, these wolves “are out of our control.”
Jimenez said he met with WGFD to discuss the feedground kills.
“WGFD told us about the issues on the McNeel Feedground,” he said. “They said they were not so much concerned about wolves killing elk but more concerned about wolves displacing elk off the feedground and onto adjacent private land with cattle or onto the highway.”
Residents have reported seeing what appeared to be tracks of stampeded elk to Highway 191 and beyond, as well as wolf numbers higher than the FWS counts. Jimenez said because of federal protections, neither FWS not WGFD could control wolf incidents at feedgrounds.
“I explained to WGFD how the 2014 court ruling that reversed the FWS delisting rule for Wyoming reinstated federal protection of wolves throughout the entire state of Wyoming as nonessential experimental and required us to manage wolves based on the 1994 10(j) rule,” Jimenez said.
“This rule allows us to lethally remove wolves that chronically kill livestock but does not allow us to kill wolves for impacts on wild ungulates. Under some circumstances, states could move wolves that were negatively impacting elk populations if they presented a detailed plan to the FWS. No state has ever moved wolves under these circumstances.”
Lund did say if the elk are pushed onto private property, WGFD could compensate owners.
“That’s one thing we can handle, damage to private property,” he said.