Grand Tetons, © Jim Chagares

Why Wipe Wolves from Most of Wyoming?

by Mike Leahy

It never made much sense to me why Wyoming was so insistent on letting people kill wolves at anytime, by any means, throughout most of the state. Livestock losses to wolves are miniscule, elk are abundant, and wolves will never likely reoccupy much of the state anyway – some of it never was good wolf habitat, like the Red Desert, other areas are too agricultural.

Yet the state’s plan to let people whoop up on wolves as much as they want in most of the state has taken root, even though it goes against any notion of responsible, science-based wildlife management. It has even won support from folks who are supposed to be protective of not only our wildlife itself, but also wildlife principles and policies: the Secretary of Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and some hunting groups.

Was I missing something? Is Wyoming that different from Montana and Idaho, which manage wolves statewide without such reckless plans? I went down to Wyoming to check it out.

Prime Wolf Habitat in the Predator Zone
I focused on the southern Wyoming Range in western Wyoming, in the wolf “predator zone” where wolves can be killed willy-nilly, even though most of the land is in the Bridger Teton National Forest. I am no wolf biologist, but the area sure looks like great wolf habitat, as confirmed by the many wolf packs that have called it home over the years, including today. There’s also the abundant prey — I saw two moose, in addition to many elk and deer. Most of Wyoming’s wolf “predator zone” is not as good wolf habitat as the Bridger-Teton National Forest, although parts are. But that doesn’t mean the government should draw invisible lines that wildlife can’t cross without fear of being killed.

So why is the Forest Service letting people come onto a national forest to kill wolves without restrictions? Wildlife is one of the five purposes of the national forests under the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act, and the Forest Service is obligated to manage for healthy, viable populations of wildlife under the National Forest Management Act and the agency’s own regulations.

Yet in the southern Bridger-Teton – or southern Shoshone, or entire Bighorn National Forest for that matter – you could locate a wolf pack in mid-winter denning season (it’s not hard), bury the pups in their den, and shoot the rest of the pack milling about nearby. This is not as far-fetched as it sounds – people brag about doing similar things to coyotes.

But why? The answers are predictable.

This is big-time elk country. So big, in fact, that the state feeds elk throughout the region to make hunting them as easy as possible by artificially cranking up their numbers. In fact, in 2011 Wyoming had about 120,000 elk — more than all but three other states in the U.S.

On top of this government largesse, hunters in the area want the government to keep wolves out so they don’t have any competition for these elk.

Yet some of the hunting community’s fundamental principles are at stake – that wildlife are a free-roaming, valuable public resource that should only be killed for legitimate purposes. As apex predators, wolves have an effect on nearly all species in an ecosystem. The hunting community’s failure to stop what Wyoming is doing to wolves is likely to come back to haunt them through wildlife they care more about.

This is also big livestock country, particularly for sheep and cattle, although I saw some horses running around loose too. The Bridger-Teton touts its management of livestock, with even road signs claiming “Livestock and wildlands now work in harmony to retain ecosystem function.”

Yet one of the most important ecosystem drivers –wolves, a top predator – are not welcome. A lot of people think wolves and livestock, particularly sheep, can‘t coexist. Yet Defenders and our partners are proving they can in projects across the region. I don’t think anyone’s even tried it here. Instead, there is a pervasive belief that wolves are a serious threat to livestock, even though in 2011 only 35 cattle and 30 sheep [PDF] were verified lost to wolves in Wyoming. There were surely some losses that weren’t verified, but total losses are still well under 0.01% for both cattle and sheep across the state.

Now What?
Defenders and our colleagues are challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s rule removing wolves from the Endangered Species Act in court. Yes, we know it will be controversial, but the federal and state plans for wolves in Wyoming are just too bad.

The Fish and Wildlife Service is requiring a race-to-the-bottom minimal population for wolves in the state – around 150. Wyoming is abandoning its commitment to manage all wildlife in “public trust”, and simply refusing to manage wolves in 85% of the state, setting a bad precedent for all wildlife — one that some Montana legislators already want to follow. The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are refusing to follow their own obligations toward wildlife on public lands and letting people do whatever they want to wolves.

While it looks like it could be a long time before we see wolves in Wyoming managed like other large wildlife (the thousands of bears and mountain lions in the state are not treated nearly this badly), the state and the federal agencies could easily remedy some of the worst abuses. Let’s hope the conservationist in all of them wakes up, and they do.

32 Responses to “Why Wipe Wolves from Most of Wyoming?”

  1. Julia

    Thank you for your efforts Mike.
    We must all work together to stop the Massacre of these sacred animals.
    I will continue to do what I can from California..Please feel free to contact me if I can do anything else to help you.


    • Patricio

      I am not Anti Animal. We have work to do with the White Rhino,Tigers,Elephants,Snow Leopards and more. Wolves breed too fast . they were exterminated back in 1800s 1900s. they recover without any problem. These other animals need help and protection. Wolves do not. Spend your time, efforts and money on the animals that NEED help.

    • Brokken

      You are at best ill-informed, at worst just ignorant. Wolves breed too fast? You should read statistics not given by corporate research labs. I work first hand as a biologist, nearly every thing you say about wolves is wrong. Wolves did not recover without a problem, they recovered in Wyoming largely due to a scientific project to reintroduce them from Canada to Wyoming. That took over 10 years. And there is still a fraction of the numbers that there were originally, because many people seem to expect wolves to respect an imaginary line that is a national park boundry.

    • lisa

      why? they are just like any other perdtor
      they so miss understood
      i wish i was in Aremic because i love wolves

  2. Marc Cooke

    Mike. Thanks for taking the time to see for yourself and offer an on the ground assessment. I too feel strongly that Wyoming’s plan is to extreme and is headed for trouble in the up coming litigation. As always thanks for all you, Suzanne and the others at Defenders do.
    Marc Cooke
    Wolves of the Rockies

  3. stephanie rosenberg

    It’s the same old story: Money talks. The ranchers who are using OUR public lands to graze cattle for their own monetary gain. I believe they ought to stop leasing out public lands for private enterprises, and allow it a “free” sanctuary (i.e., return the wild animals that were there at one time (such as wolves, mustangs, and others as appropriate) and allow nature to take her course and the citizens of this great country enjoy what should be theirs.

    • Carole Lyle

      I strongly agree – Big Beef does not have my permission to graze on my Public Land – I consider the lease Null & Void

    • Jack Cowling

      Well spoken. This brutal policy is so very thinly disguised as a tacked-on policy for corporate ranchers to have more control over the little wild lands remaining to this country. What will the state of wolves be like when my children are grown up?

  4. Angela

    Managing is slaughtering. I hate it. I hate that man thinks himself so above everything this merciless killing is justified/glorified.
    Its all unacceptable

    • Steven Trevaskus

      Wyomings Policy regarding its Wolf population is at best poor and at worst incompetent . By all means compensate the ranchers but dont blame a wild animal for doing what is does naturally to survive .In Africa and India lots of money gets generated from people wanting to see wildlife .There is a spiritual link between North American indians and Wolves that modern man has not got with the natural world and destruction of anything that impeeds progress is destroyed .Lets hope Defenders of Wildlife can change the way people think and act while there is still time .

  5. Kat Brekken

    Thanks for what you are doing! I live and work in Yellowstone and it just makes me sick that the Fish and Wildlife people would single out the wolf, to be the only species ever to have been taken off the endangered species list, only to go directly into a hunting season. Unreal. Unfair to the recovery efforts and to the Canis lupus species as a whole. Ecotourism is far more reaching than a hunter killing a wolf for the sake of killing and maybe doing the taxidermy on the cape. The science supports this. People come to see wolves. People are thrilled when they do. So how come a few folks, who want to kill the wolf are able to do this, when so many others want to continue to enjoy watching the wolf? Doesn’t make any sense at all.

  6. andrea

    A referendum to stop all federal allotments for any private stock needs to be a focus. The ranching lobby, including NCBA, have funded the delisting of wolves through false claims and manipulation of state game and fish agencies in many states. They are unscrupulous, as are the State agencies selling an abundance of wolf tags for killing by any method. Idaho sold over 6000 wolf tags. What did they do with that money?

    No more cattle on federal land and no more entitled welfare ranchers.
    A beef boycott is ongoing…please remember it essentially distills into this: buying beef kills wolves.

    • Elizabeth

      Andrea, so very true! Remember how the white man betrayed the native american? Well there you go! It’s all about politics, money, and big lobbyists! I’m absolutely horrified and astonished that this has happened! It has also happened in Wisconsin, where the 780 population of wolves is about to be totally wiped out after October 15th.

  7. Ruby

    Reason they do this because they can’t make money off the wolfs. i think there other ways of dealing with this! Then killing then. They are put here for a reason. They are part of God works.

  8. Jack Cowling

    How is there not more outrage in Wyoming. I meet relatively few middle-class WY natives who really are interested in this case. Surely this is what sets our state apart from Delaware or Maryland, that we actually have wolves and should be proud of that. But no, money (or beef) talks, and congress is weak. I was very young when many people’s ambitions were finally realized in the mid-90’s to reintroduce wolves. What a slap in the face to the folks who worked so hard for 16 years.

  9. avagreen

    I’m going to throw my support behind this cause as well as the cause of saving our wild mustangs and burros.

    This administration and their puppet, Ken Salazar, have to be stopped!!
    I consider them outlaws, all of them.

    • Patricio

      They are Feral. They are animals that got away from the owners long ago and TURNED wild. They are an introduced animal not native to the area.

    • Charlie

      They’re wild now. No animal in that case is TRULY wild, they all migrate or evolve. I doubt that mustangs remember that they were from Spanish horses. What an absurd remark.

  10. Lynette

    I’m Australian, living in Adelaide, South Australia. I signed your petition because I believe that wild animals need protection. Kangaroos are culled here because in times of good rain and food, the numbers explode and there aren’t many predators to keep the numbers in balance. As I understand it, this is very strictly managed. My country doesn’t have a particularly good reputation for looking after animals, just look at how the live sheep and cattle trade is managed. Those animals are slaughtered brutally in foreign countries instead of being humanely (?) butchered here and then sent overseas.

    Thank you for what you do.

  11. Zyxomma

    The sheep and cattle ranchers should not be allowed to graze their herds on OUR public lands. Wolves belong on the endangered list, and should not be hunted, whether in Wyoming or outside Denali National Park. It’s an outrage.

  12. Laurie

    The wolves are being sold out for the cattle—-this is so SICKENING!!!! The wolves have RIGHTS to be there—they are there for good reasons. Such SHAME to go around! How about the cattle not being on Federal land??? The natural order of things are being manipulated–so wrong!~

  13. Linda

    Thanks to the Defenders family for working so tirelessly for our beloved wolves. I’m also a member of Earthjustice and they are also involved in the effort to stop Wyoming from continuing this atrocity. Is it possible to get even more wildlife conservation groups to join in the effort so that even more voices can be heard?? One thing I did was to write the Governor of Wyoming and tell him I have a trip to Wyoming planned for June of next year (which is the truth) but that I will cancel it if this atrocious plan is not stopped! (Of course he could care less if I cancel my trip but maybe if large numbers of people boycott Wyoming, the Chamber of Commerce might get involved and put pressure on the state to suspend the wolf hunt!!) It’s worth a try! For the wolves!!!

  14. Diana Barnes

    Thank-you so much for all your hard work. So proud to be part of a wonderful organization. Lets hope we win for the wolves sake.

  15. paul mellor

    I’m so sorry for all the wildlife that is simply trying to exist in this country,world. Unfortunately, humans as just plain ignorant!
    We must remove all grazing rights of any ranchers/farmers acess to public lands and allow all natural life to simply exist. It’s all they have left as “humans” encroace on the only place they have to exist! Can anyone imagine what the world would be like without animals???? Are not they part of “creation”? Wake up America, pootect what we have left or live in a barren, desolate world. MOney does not rule on this fragile planet-snap out of it or perish! There is no alternative my “fellow” humans’! We will all perish together if we do not stop breeding and protect what finite resources we have left to enjoy! Think of your great, great grand-childerns future, if they have one!

  16. barbara russell

    The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be measured by the way its animals are treated.
    When will stupid people get a clue how important wildlife is to this planet. Conservation should be #1 subject taught at home,at school…Conservation means preservation, protection, and restoration of the natural environment, which includes all its wildlife. Without these efforts and enforcement we all die. We die because of your fat pockets and killing sprees.

  17. Renato Wolf

    … All i know is : When a Wolf get hit by “insane/stupid/mediocre/insane/cruel/murder guns/rifles” , my whole body feel the strong impact and my heart a deep pain/suffering … This is what its all about ….

  18. Dave

    If you look at his actions both through sanctioning BLM horse & burro round-up’s and his actions to (NOT) protect wildlife such as this in WY with the wolves, Ken Salazar is as bad a steward as any GOP-appointed Secretary of the Interior would be. He’s totally in the pocket figuratively (and perhaps literally) to ranching interests, hunting interests, horse-slaughter interests–you name it. Where did Obama dig up this dolt?

  19. Laurie

    SALAZAR NEEDS TO BE DE-THRONED—as fast as possible. He is rotten-bad news, for both the fate of wolves as well as wild mustangs. He couldn’t be more corrupt–with his outrageous favoritism towards the ranchers and hunters. His neighbor is a “kill buyer” of mustangs, and Salazar has been doing his neighbor a big favor.

  20. estrella

    This is always the same, first us, then us, always us. Money should be invested to help save this beautiful animals is our duty to protect the helpless and weak! shame on us, always looking for the easiest way!

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