Several conservation organizations and numerous Native American tribes are citing Wyoming’s wolf predator zone — the roughly 85% of the state where wolves can be killed at any time by any means — as evidence of the need for renewed federal protection of the gray wolf.

In an “emergency petition,” a coalition of conservation groups has asked U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland to reestablish protections for the gray wolf in the northern Rocky Mountains, including Wyoming. Wyoming’s unlicensed and unregulated killing of wolves across most of the state, results in “an overall negative growth rate,” the petition states. 

Wyoming’s predator zone has hampered wolf recovery in Colorado, advocates believe, because the free-fire predator zone covers more than 100 miles of country between Wyoming’s regulated wolf trophy management area and the Centennial State.

“Wyoming cannot be expected to serve as a secure source of dispersing wolves,” the petition says.

In addition to the listing petition, conservation groups also seek to withhold federal Pittman-Robertson and Sport Fish Restoration funds to states that allow hunting and trapping of predators “at levels that compromise healthy populations.”

At the end of 2020, 147 wolves lived in the northwest corner of the state outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation, according to Game and Fish estimates. The wild canines are managed as trophy game in that region and their killing is regulated there. That program has continued to meet federal population goals, the state wildlife agency asserts.

But regional context could become important as Idaho and Montana sanction increased killing of wolves there. Even Canadian tribes have petitioned Haaland to rein in the bloodletting, saying wolves are “functionally extinct” in most of their range and citing Wyoming’s predator regulations that allow “killing pups in dens.”

History

Although contemporary Western wolf history stretches back to 1995 when the animals were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and Idaho, former president Donald Trump ignited recent debates by removing gray wolves from the list of protected species on Jan. 5, 2021. Montana and Idaho soon increased hunting quotas.

Wyoming’s wolf management areas. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

Montana hunters just outside Yellowstone National Park killed three wolves from the park’s iconic Junction Butte pack in the last two weeks — the first weeks of Montana’s open season — prompting a rebuke from Park Superintendent Cam Sholly. Calling wolves part of “our balanced ecosystem here,” he asked the state to reinstate “quotas that would protect the core wolf population in Yellowstone.”

Who said what?

Secretary Haaland, who said when she visited Yellowstone in August that wildlife “don’t see borders,” found “substantial, credible information” that relisting the gray wolf may be warranted, the Interior Department’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said on Sept. 15. The agency did not make an immediate emergency finding but said Sept. 15 it will review the species’ status within 12 months.

Gov. Gordon reacted the next day, saying “our program, our plan has worked and we believe we have strong evidence to support that.” It “does not need to be fixed,” he said.

Rain (aka Rain Bear Stands Last), the executive director of the Global Indigenous Council, said the sponsors of wolf hunting bills are “conflating Euro-Medieval sadism with so-called wildlife management.”

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at angus@wyofile.com or (307)...

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  1. When all the wolves, and mountain lions, and Wild horses are wiped out, then Big Agr can march in and destroy American taxpayers public land by turning out thousands of cattle n sheep.

  2. It’s a shame that such a great nation is killing one of the most beautiful animals in the world!
    I was happy that Mr Biden came to power as I thought he’d do away with heartlessness that Trump’s term in office showed. Apparently nothing has changed….

  3. Harvey Reading is right on! Wyoming State rulers and BLM are in cahoots to siphon off all wildlife that interferes with the current range management (a continuing gift to monied interests). If it moos, baas, or smells of petroleum, Wyoming is on board with eliminating anything that might interfere with laughably small AUM’s, with the sage grouse non-management, or with kill happy attempts to eliminate wolfs.
    Wyoming has been bought and paid for by extractive and agriculture interests; evident everywhere you look. The sheep magnate who runs the Rock Springs Grazing Assoc. is one of the worst. Every sheep that gets hit by a car is submitted to the state as a loss due to a coyote, wolf, or bear I believe. If not, then lets see the figures on how many are hit by cars and not represented as a predator kill? I don’t believe that figure has ever been published. Quit killing wolves that unknowingly cross some invisible boundary that is there only to better RSGA’s bottom line. Wyoming cattle and sheep are only a % of a % in total contribution to the meat market and wool gatherers. Wildlife is worth way more than that; it brings people into the state who spend money and help the Mom & Pop stores around the state. Sheep and cattle eat everything that has greened up with nothing left for wildlife. That is probably why the wolves leave Yellowstone. No food for their prey= no prey for a wolf. Lets’ pray for Wyoming.

  4. #istandforwolves
    Thank you, Rain (aka Rain Bear Stands Last…for your truth!!! I stand with you!! Mother Earth, mother nature….consist with the circle of life…and our beautiful wildlife, beautiful wolves …make the world go round….Wyoming ,I have loved you since I was young girl…with my dad,exploring the rich history…But I am losing my love for you, Wyoming…Leave the nasty toxic chemicals out…And listen to the winds..smell the beautiful trees..and love the land you step each second. It is so important to have gratitude for beautiful animals ..Leave the wolves be. Big game hunters …your prize when you slater mother earth…your prize Is KARMA…AND SHE IS A LOVELY BITCH!!!

  5. The agreement with the Feds was a minimum of 10 breeding pair outside the national parks in the trophy area. Wyoming Game and Fish manages for about double that. I don’t know how many of the 147 wolves are breeding pairs, but it shows the success of the Wyoming program.. Raise that number and they will go after livestock and domestic pets more that than they currently do.
    This demand by the usual suspects is a changing of the goalposts. We in Wyoming are not responsible for “atrocities” in Montana nor is it our duty to provide a corridor for wolf population growth in Colorado. If they want wolves there they can introduce them there like they did in Yellowstone in 1995.
    Director Haaland’s observation that wolves don’t see borders is why we have a trophy area surrounding the parks.

    1. Bruce, Wyoming does NOT manage for double the amount of breeding pairs. Last year’s count of breeding pairs was eleven, with one pack spending time both inside and outside the Park. Most of our so-called “packs” are non-breeding, consisting of 2 or 3 wolves. Wyoming has figured out they can kill 49% of our wolf population every year, keeping them at 150 wolves, just 50 above the required minimum as a safety valve, just in case of disease or unforeseen circumstances. That is not managing for healthy populations, but managing to avoid federal re-listing.

      Wolves need to be re-listed to restore healthy management. Our predator zone needs to be eliminated. Wolves aren’t vermin. And that was done as a backroom deal, not through review. And the Federal relisting minimums, which were just guess-work on the part of the Feds when the agreement was made, needs a complete overhaul through a scientific review.

  6. Wyoming is a prime example of inept wildlife management. Of course Governor Gordon thinks they have a great model. Leave a remnant (genetically unviable) population right outside of Yellowstone and kill any other wolf that dares set foot outside the invisible boundary. Beware people! This is also how they would manage grizzlies if given the chance. They already kill or move any bear that gets even close to wandering outside the bear management area!

  7. The fact is there is not enough food left for the number of wolves now in the park, much less adding to them. It is rare to see the elk herds of yesteryear, deer, even pronghorns. Even the swans seem to be replaced with imports that are the present years hatch. There is simply no documentation of wolves in the numbers now in Yellowstone. Unfortunately the Park is pretty much being managed for the maximum in research dollars for the so called researchers.

    1. Marion, the recovery efforts are focused on state-wide populations, not just the park, but the wolves of Yellowstone are the most viewed and studied wolves in the world. There is AMPLE tracking of wolf populations in the park. You can learn more about the wolves in the park at https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/wolves.htm

      There are no plans to add to the wolf population in the park- the wolves have managed their own populations since reintroductions ended in 96. That said, there’s plenty of prey in the park- another population number that’s well studied and documented by NPS. Anecdotally, last time I was in the park (2 years ago) I saw numerous herds of elk and bison.