Wyoming could hold a wolf-hunting season as soon as next fall if state and federal officials move quickly enough to ratify an agreement to delist the animals in the state, according to Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission may also loosen reporting requirements for wolf kills when the commission meets next month to consider approving the landmark agreement, the officials said.
Under a deal announced Aug. 3 by Gov. Matt Mead and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wolves in the northwest part of the state would be protected as trophy game, meaning they could only be hunted with a license.
The plan also establishes a flex zone covering northern Sublette and Lincoln counties, as well as southern Teton County, in which wolves would be protected only from Oct. 15 until the end of the following February so they can connect with wolves in Idaho.
In the rest of the state, wolves would be considered predators and could be killed on sight, as long as the death is reported to the state afterward.
Under the plan, Wyoming would be required to maintain 100 wolves, including 10 breeding pairs. The numbers do not include wolves in Yellowstone National Park and on the Wind River Indian Reservation.
Game and Fish is currently holding a series of meetings around the state to present the plan and collect feedback from the public. The feedback will be presented to the Game and Fish Commission in advance of its special meeting Sept. 14 in Casper to vote on the changes to the state’s wolf management plan.
The Wyoming Legislature and the Fish and Wildlife Service would also have to approve the deal.
During the first of those public meetings, held Tuesday night at the Game and Fish’s Casper office, few in the audience of 20 voiced their opinion on the wolf deal. That’s because Mark Bruscino, supervisor of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department bear management program, said only written comments would be passed along to the Game and Fish Commission.
In his presentation, Bruscino said that a wolf-hunting season could be established next fall if final approval comes by mid-2012.
That possibility was confirmed by Game and Fish spokesman Eric Keszler.
Bruscino also said the Game and Fish Commission would likely amend the state’s wolf management plan to relax reporting rules for people who shoot wolves.
Under the plan, anyone who kills a wolf in the state’s predator zone must report it to Game and Fish within 72 hours and bring in the animal so biologists can perform genetic testing on the animal, Bruscino said.
But Bruscino said state officials and Fish and Wildlife have agreed to scrap the requirement and make it voluntary.
Keszler said there has been talk of changing the reporting requirements, but nothing specific had been agreed upon. So far, he said, the Game and Fish Commission isn’t considering any other changes to the wolf management plan as agreed to in the deal.
Don Pavack, a Natrona County rancher and president of the Natrona County Farm and Ranch Bureau, said at the meeting that requiring ranchers lug in a wolf they shoot in the backcountry was completely unrealistic.
“If you’ve ever been on a trail moving cows on a seven-day or 10-day trail, you don’t have the luxury to stop for that,” he said.
In response to a question from a reporter, Bruscino also said that if the deal passes and wolves are officially labeled predators in much of the state, a landowner could go on his neighbor’s land to shoot a wolf menacing his or her livestock — even if the neighbor refuses to let him on his or her property.
In such cases, under existing Wyoming law, the livestock owner could petition his or her county commissioners to force the neighbor to allow access in order to kill the wolf.
Game and Fish will hold public meetings on the wolf deal today in Cody and Rock Springs, Monday in Cheyenne and Wednesday in Lander. The public can also submit comments to Game and Fish by mail or fax.