Following through on an earlier threat, a coalition of environmental groups has filed a lawsuit to halt Wyoming’s management of wolves.
“The predator zone is still the focus of our concern,” said Mike Leahy of Bozeman, the Rocky Mountain director of Defenders of Wildlife, one of the groups filing the lawsuit.
“It’s a bad precedent to set, for the management of all wildlife species, to try drawing a line in the sand for any species,” he added.
Defenders is joined in the lawsuit by Earthjustice, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club.
It was filed Tuesday against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in federal court in Washington D.C.
The groups contend FWS was negligent in allowing Wyoming’s wolf management plan to go forward.
The predator zone – or dual classification of wolves – had been a sticking point for FWS in previous efforts to delist wolves here, even after Montana and Idaho were allowed to implement their plans and hunting seasons.
But Gov. Matt Mead last year stuck a deal with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. It allowed for a “flex zone” for wolves in the Jackson-Pinedale area, giving them additional protection in the predator zone for part of the year.
That plan was accepted, and wolf hunting began in Wyoming’s trophy game zone Oct. 1, with the season set to run until Dec. 31.
In the trophy game zone (in Park County, west of WYO 120), wolves are managed like other trophy species. Licensed hunters may shoot them only during the hunting season, and within the limits of mortality quotas – 3-8 wolves per each hunting area.
Once the mortality rate is reached or the end of the season arrives, hunting ends, regardless of how many hunters still hold tags.
Outside the trophy game zone (in Park County, east of WYO 120), wolves are managed as a predatory species, like coyotes or jackrabbits. They may be killed on sight, without any license, season or bag limit restrictions.
The plaintiffs don’t take issue with the principle of licensed, controlled wolf hunting, Leahy said.
But they see no room for compromise regarding the predatory classification, he added.
“Overall, the Wyoming plan is just no way to manage wildlife. They are neglecting to manage wolves as wildlife in 85 percent of the state, including prime habitat in the southern Bridger-Teton Forest,” he said.
The groups contend that wolves should be allowed to disperse into that public land, thereby expanding their range, possibly to Colorado.
“Wolves should be allowed to roam, and if any particular wolves start causing problems, those wolves could be removed,” he said.
Game and Fish contends wolves haven’t ventured outside the trophy game zone in significant numbers, and aren’t likely to do so soon.
G&F spokesman Eric Keszler declined to comment on the lawsuit.
“That’s now in the realm of the attorney general,” he said.
Still, G&F considers its management to be going well, he said.
“From our perspective, wolf management and public wolf hunting in Wyoming has gone well so far,” he said.
34 wolves taken so far this season
The total quota for wolves in the trophy game zone for the current hunting season is 52.
The latest report from Game and Fish indicates 34 wolves had been taken by hunters so far.
In the predator zone, where wolves may be killed at any time without a license or bag limit, 16 had been taken, according to G&F.
Of the 12 wolf hunt areas in the trophy game zone, areas 1-4 are in or nearest to Park County.
The latest available reports in those areas include:
•Area 1 (Clarks Fork): Two wolves taken out of a quota of four.
•Area 2 (Sunlight Basin): Seven of 8 taken.
•Area 3 (North Fork/South Fork): Four of 8 taken.
•Area 4 (Greybull River/Meeteetse): Closed Oct. 31, with quota of three wolves filled.
(Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.)