Wolves under Fire in Wyoming
By Sharon Mader, Senior Program Manager, Grand Teton
This month has been a sad one for Wyoming’s wolves. On October 1, the federal government removed wolves from the protection of the Endangered Species Act, allowing the state to permit hunting of these animals, despite glaring deficiencies in Wyoming’s wolf management plan. Even worse, the state included national park lands (namely, the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway and Grand Teton National Park) in a designated hunting area. Although no wolves will be hunted this year in national parks, the inclusion of park lands within a state hunting zone sets the stage for a future challenge to the Park Service’s authority over wildlife.
Wolves have just reached their minimum recovery goals, and an aggressive hunt is no way to manage for a future population of wolves. There are only approximately 250 wolves in the state, not including those living in Yellowstone National Park. Wolves were eradicated from the area in the 1920s and are just recently on the road to recovery thanks to a successful reintroduction effort in 1995. Despite this, Wyoming is aggressively targeting a quota to kill 52 wolves this year in hunt areas outside of Grand Teton and Yellowstone, seeking to ultimately reduce the population to as few as 100 wolves outside of Yellowstone within the next few years.
NPCA feels this is no way to manage a recovering species. These actions will have a direct, negative impact on wolf packs living inside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, since these animals are wide-ranging and regularly move across park boundaries on to lands where they will be hunted.
The John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway contains a 24,000-acre tract of land managed by the Park Service that connects Yellowstone to Grand Teton. Although NPCA believes that the Park Service has ultimate authority over all lands within the parkway, the state is challenging this authority by refusing to remove national park lands from the hunting zone. The Park Service will need to act decisively and pass special rules to prohibit the hunting of wolves in Wyoming’s national parks or else they will jeopardize their ability to deny wolf hunting in the future.
Why protect wolves? If you are not moved by the beauty and significance of the animals themselves, consider their relationship with the rest of the region. The loss of predators such as wolves has a ripple effect that throws the entire ecosystem out of balance, affecting not just other wildlife, but plant populations, too. Recent research has shown that the loss of wolves and bears creates an overpopulation of game animals such as deer and elk, which in turn reduces plant life and diminishes biodiversity. Hunting by humans simply does not offer the benefits that natural predators do in the wild.
More than 54,000 NPCA supporters have already voiced concerns to the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service asking for clear protection of wolves in Wyoming’s national parks–but both agencies have thus far failed to do so. In just 22 days a total of 26 animals have already been killed across the state. NPCA will continue to urge the Park Service to clearly prohibit the hunting of wolves on all of Wyoming’s national park lands.
You can stay up to date on this and other issues concerning national parks by signing up for NPCA’s action alerts at www.npca.org/join.