As of today, wolves are once again fair game in Wyoming. Thirty-nine years after grey wolves were granted Endangered Species Act protection, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last month that it would let Wyoming manage its own wolf population. The FWS also supported a proposed Wyoming plan to allow wolves to be shot on sight throughout much of the state, with the animals permanently protected in areas like Yellowstone.
Wolves aren’t easy to hunt, and it’s uncommon for hunters to go out specifically targeting them. According to numbers from Montana’s 2009 wolf hunt, 78 percent of hunters that killed a wolf were hunting for deer or elk, and with 72 animals killed that year, hunters didn’t meet the state’s limit of 75. And while Wyoming has sold over 2,200 licenses, only the state’s quota is set at 52 animals within set trophy areas, which are regions of the state with regular restrictions on hunting, like license requirements and set seasons for different animals.
But in Wyoming, there’s a massive loophole: Outside of the trophy areas, wolves are considered predators and can now be shot on sight. (Outside of wolf season in trophy areas, wolves are also considered predators, but I’m not sure if they’re able to be shot then.) Last year, state wildlife officials estimated that there are around 220-230 wolves in the state, of which 10 breeding pairs and 100 individuals are required by law to be maintained. The other 130? Well, if people see them, they’ll shoot them.
A couple weeks ago I wrote why the Wyoming hunt has terrible reasoning, and that hasn’t changed. Wolves have struggled to rebound in the continental U.S., but after nearly four decades, they have, and the benefits of their return to the health of local ecosystems are myriad. But just because they’re back and populations are relatively stable, and just because officials have a rough idea of the bare minimum of individuals required to keep wolves from disappearing completely, doesn’t mean that we should automatically be trying to kill as many of them as we can.
Follow Derek Mead on Twitter: @derektmead.