A group of wolf killers make a game for Wyoming | News

PINEDALE — Justin Webb wanted to hear what the seven trappers in the back row thought of his terrain.

The beggar Idaho resident had traveled to Sublette County to promote his organization, the Foundation for Wildlife Management, a 501©(3) nonprofit that makes payments to trappers who kill wolves. But two hours later, the stone-faced men had barely said a word. Webb, the group’s executive director and an avid trapper himself, tried to get the outdoor enthusiasts gathered in the library’s conference room to say something.

“We go into the woods to get away from people, don’t we? That’s what I do,” Webb told the trappers. He made a last resort. “Speak, sir,” he said. “You came to the meeting. Let me hear what you got.

Webb’s core message—that wolves are decimating elk, deer, and moose populations and limiting opportunities for human hunters—prevailed in Idaho and Montana, but not without controversy. State-sanctioned wolf hunting and trapping seasons designed to reduce wolf populations in these states, including at the gates of Yellowstone, have made national headlines and sparked lawsuits and petitions for Endangered Species Act listing.

Webb’s push to establish a Wildlife Management Foundation chapter in Pinedale seemed to fall flat. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has been walking a tightrope on wolf management for years, some say, and it doesn’t need groups like FWM to upset the balance. Wyoming also doesn’t have the problems that FWM aims to solve, others argue.

La Barge resident and former Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner Mike Schmid predicted the response.

“I told my wife I thought it was going to be kind of a dud,” Schmid said of the reunion. “I don’t know how it’s going to fit into Wyoming.”

Webb, meanwhile, said some Wyoming residents want his services.

“I’m here because there are sportspeople in the state of Wyoming, as well as people from the ranching community, who have contacted us with interest,” he told the Pinedale crowd.

It remains to be seen whether the Wildlife Management Foundation’s ways to kill wolves will gain traction with Wyoming sportsmen and women in other communities, but some of the issues are already clear. Wyoming wants to continue managing its wolf population, but incentivizing the killing of wolves with payments could draw more attention from activists who would like to see the species back on the list, protected from hunting and under management. federal.

The non-profit’s decade-old mission is to help elk, deer and moose herds by reimbursing expenses related to the slaughter of wolves, and it has passed on more than $1 million to more than 1,400 dead wolves in Montana and Idaho. This bounty-like system has drawn attention in the two neighboring states of Wyoming, where there are relatively more wolves and where wolf hunting and trapping seasons have been politicized by state legislatures.

Private bounties for killing wolves are already allowed in Wyoming, but it’s unclear whether Webb’s approach aligns well with how the state handles controversial native species. Based on reports from state biologists, Wyoming does not have a glut of wolves to kill. Wolves are already classified as predators that can be killed without a permit at any time of the year in more than 80% of the state, where about 30 to 40 of the canines are shot and trapped each year. Wolves are classed as trophy game and managed for persistence only in far northwest Wyoming. As of this winter, there are only about 160 wolves in this area, according to Wyoming Game and Fish wolf biologist Ken Mills. (Another 100 wolves live in Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation, where the national wildlife agency has no jurisdiction and the species is not hunted.)

Like Webb, Jessi Johnson works to conserve elk, moose and deer for hunters, but as advocacy coordinator for the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, she thinks Wyoming is already taking the right approach to wildlife. wolves and don’t think the addition of bounty hunting is necessary.

“We are absolutely reaching the bottom echelon [of wolf numbers], and we do it on purpose,” Johnson said. “There’s a reason we haven’t seen [wolf-killing] legislation like Montana and Idaho.

Managing wolves under the status quo, she said, works, however “unsavory” the predator zone may seem – where wolves are killed without limit.

“In the trophy area, they’re incredibly well managed,” Johnson said. “We never even worried about being too low or too high. If you had told me 10 years ago that Wyoming was a benchmark for large carnivore management, I wouldn’t have believed you, but I’ve been to other countries and talked to other legislatures, spoken to other departments, and I think Wyoming’s leadership is strong.

The Wyoming Wildlife Federation, Johnson said, has “no interest” in associating with Webb and his group.

Groups that aren’t as complimentary of the management of Wyoming’s wolves are also wary of the foundation’s attempt to establish chapters in the state of equality.

“Increased harvesting and method of capture in Wyoming’s trophy management area could push the population below the minimum number of wolves required by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Loren Taylor, executive director of Wyoming Untrapped. “A wolf bounty program to increase the number of wolves killed is not what we need in Wyoming.”

Mills of Game and Fish confirmed there wasn’t much wiggle room left in terms of wolf numbers. The population goal in the trophy game area is 160 wolves, he said, which generally equates to about 14 breeding pairs.

“And here we are,” Mills said. “The [Wyoming] Game and Fish has arguably the most rigorous wolf population monitoring program in the Lower 48. We don’t generate an estimate, we generate a census. We count them, we map them. We know where the potential holes are and we know where to look.

The FWM unites around the idea of ​​helping ungulates, the main prey of gray wolves. At the meeting, Webb and FWM board member Rusty Kramer told grim stories of encountering uneaten moose carcasses that wolves had strewn across the landscape. Wolves have moved big game from the Idaho backcountry, they argued, ruining their hunting opportunities.

“I have an 18-year-old son that I want to bring to experience backcountry elk camp,” Webb said. “I want him to sit on top of a mountain on a ridge and listen to the bulls trumpet below him when the sun comes up, and I think if we don’t do anything to control the wolf populations he won’t have that experience.”

Webb is from Idaho and his anxiety doesn’t match the number of elk in most parts of Wyoming. The state’s latest elk population estimate of nearly 102,000 animals exceeded Wyoming Game and Fish Department goals by 29 percent.

“Where we hear complaints and what people are frustrated with is with [an overabundance of] elk cow,” Johnson said. “Frankly, taking out more wolves won’t solve that problem either.”

The timing of Webb’s effort to grow was partly based on a coming threshold. Wyoming has had jurisdiction over its wolves for five years. Meanwhile, the state has been required to closely monitor the population to prove it is sticking to promises about wolf numbers agreed upon when Endangered Species Act protections were lifted.

“Depending on what Wyoming chooses to do, once they get out of the five-year review, that will dictate some of how we might play a role,” Webb told Trappers.

Opening a season of wolf trapping in the trophy game zone — a pursuit currently banned — is one policy reform Webb’s group could work towards, he told them. Currently, only wolf hunting is permitted in this area.

“How the hell do you reduce the number of wolves if you can’t set traps?” Webb asked. “This part is a dilemma for me.”

Trappers have about 30% success in killing a wolf in the Lower 48, according to statistics cited by Webb, while only 1% of hunters hit their mark.

But Mills, the state biologist, doesn’t see the halt to the five-year review as a cause for major changes in the management of Wyoming’s wolves: “I think that’s a really naive point,” said he declared.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service is already conducting a new review of the state of the wolf population in the northern Rocky Mountain states following a petition, he said. Subsequent petitions can come from any member of the public at any time.

“The reality is that at all times, the Wyoming Department of Game and Fisheries must be able to demonstrate that we meet the criteria for recovery,” he said. “That won’t change, as we will still need to be ready to provide the data to respond to a petition.”

If a Wyoming chapter of Webb’s group were to form, one thing he could do immediately is implement the refund program — something that could happen without changing state law or policy. Game and Fish. In Idaho, home to around 1,500 wolves, the Department of Fish and Game even partnered with the foundation in the venture, raising $200,000.

The de facto bounty program — which requires trappers to submit receipts for fuel and other expenses incurred — pays between $500 and $1,000 per wolf killed, depending on the region.

Trapping is not permitted in the trophy game area as it is in the predator area. But the bounty structure used by FWM, if applied to hunters, would be legal today throughout Wyoming, according to Dan Smith, acting deputy chief of Game and Fish’s Wildlife Division.

“As long as the wolf has been legally captured by a licensed hunter for a season [in the trophy game area]”, he said, “I don’t see why they couldn’t put a bounty on that. “

In its first foray into Wyoming, the Foundation for Wildlife Management gained some support.

Phil Pfisterer, who chairs the Wyoming State Trappers Association, is a member of the organization and said he believes there is an excess of unreported wolves in the landscape that warrants killing more animals. He described the Wind River Indian Reservation as a “predator pit” that produces pups that scatter across tribal borders.

The foundation’s payments, Pfisterer said, are a “viable tool” for controlling wolves in the predator zone. But he added that Wyoming is doing a “tremendous job” of controlling wolf numbers as part of status quo management.

Webb and Kramer also made their presentation to a congregation of trappers gathered in Riverton this month for a fur sale. Some 30 to 40 people, Pfisterer estimated, listened to them, although none of the trappers jumped at the chance to start a new chapter, he said.

Friday in Pinedale, Webb said it was still unclear if there was an appetite for his services in Wyoming.

“I will simply say this: volunteers are absolutely necessary,” he said. “If this is to happen, it will be because Wyoming wants [us] here.”

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