By Ruffin Prevost
CODY, WYO. — A coalition of environmental groups filed suit in federal court in Denver on Tuesday seeking to return management of gray wolves in Wyoming to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, claiming wolves should remain classified as an endangered species.
It is the second lawsuit filed in opposition to wolf hunts that began Oct. 1 in Wyoming, as well as to a statewide wolf management plan that classifies wolves as predators without any protections across most of the state.
State and federal wildlife managers have said earlier that Wyoming’s wolf hunt has gone smoothly and that no single pack is losing wolves disproportionately.
The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone Park in 1995 has remained a contentious issue in the northern Rockies—especially in Wyoming communities close to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks. The animals have since multiplied and spread to communities across the region that lie far outside the park’s boundaries.
Earlier this year, federal wildlife managers cited robust numbers of wolves across Wyoming as sufficient reason to return management control over wolves in the state to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
The state’s dual approach of treating wolves as regulated trophy game in the greater Yellowstone area and as a predator with no protections across most of the state has sparked outrage among wolf advocates.
Environmental groups have argued that wolf populations are vulnerable to a number of risks ranging from disease to habitat loss and fragmentation, saying the animals should not yet be hunted, and that their numbers should be maintained at higher levels than state and federal targets require.
“Wolves are a natural and important component in a fully-functioning ecosystem;” said Michael Garrity of Alliance for Wild Rockies, one of eight groups that filed suit Tuesday. “Without wolves, fragile stream habitats are impaired by overabundant elk and this negatively effects numerous species,” Garrity said in a written statement.
State and federal wildlife managers have long maintained that wolves have met or exceeded recovery goals in their prime habitat areas around Yellowstone.
“Wyoming’s first wolf hunting season is a conservative approach to wolf management in northwest Wyoming,” said Mark Bruscino, large carnivore supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
“It is designed to help reduce the population slightly while keeping it well above the minimum required to ensure that wolves remain off the endangered species list in Wyoming,” Bruscino said in a statement released earlier this month. “By all indications, we can call the wolf hunting season a success to this point and expect it to continue to be successful.”
By mid-November, hunters had killed 34 wolves in trophy game management areas around the northwest corner of Wyoming. Another 16 had been killed in other parts of the state where they may be taken without restrictions. No wolf hunting is allowed in Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks.
“No one pack is bearing a disproportionate amount of the harvest,” Bruscino said.
Wolf trapping, allowed in Montana but not in Wyoming or Idaho, also has been criticized by opponents, who claim it is cruel and inhumane.
Seven wolves that had previously been captured in Yellowstone and fitted with tracking collars as part of ongoing research projects are among those killed by hunters this fall. Wolves often wander in and out of park boundaries, moving through surrounding public and private lands.
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].