The Wyoming Game and Fish Department will issue 47 tags for the 2021 gray wolf hunt, down from 51 last year.
The 2020 wolf trophy game hunting season ended 18 mortalities below the limit. Hunters killed 31 wolves between Sept. 15 and Dec. 31 and an additional two in January.
“We’re really only proposing changes to the mortality limit. We didn’t propose any other changes,” Dan Thompson, the department’s large carnivore supervisor, told the Game and Fish Commission this week.
The commission voted to approve the proposed 47-wolf quota.
Wolves were removed from the Endangered Species List in 2012, relisted in 2014 and delisted again in 2017. As part of that process, the state developed a wolf management plan, which determined that the species would be stable as long as it maintained a population of at least 100 wolves — including a minimum of 10 breeding pairs — in areas under state jurisdiction.
The number of hunting tags issued each season is dependent on Wyoming’s total wolf population — a number the Game and Fish Department monitors closely throughout the year. The agency then calculates the number of wolves that can be taken by hunters without jeopardizing the minimum population requirements set by the wolf management plan. That total also accounts for anticipated mortalities not caused by hunting.
“It’s a lot easier to manage for numbers of wolves than it is for breeding pairs,” Thompson said. But the number of breeding pairs correlates closely with total population, enabling the Game and Fish Department to limit its tag allowance to a number with a high probability of leaving 10 or more breeding pairs. It ended the season with 11 breeding pairs in 2018, 13 in 2019 and 11 in 2020.
When wolves were still on the Endangered Species List, upwards of 20 were still killed by the agency every year through depredation efforts. “What [hunts] can do is gradually shift, over time, wolves from agency take to hunter take,” Thompson said.
Many wolf conservation advocates are pushing for lower hunting quotas and more self-regulation of wolf populations. Thompson said wolves don’t self-regulate until they’ve significantly exceeded their carrying capacity, and require human intervention to maintain stable populations.
“Wolf populations can expand rapidly,” he said. “They’ll saturate suitable habitat.”
But during the public comment portion of the meeting, Lisa Robertson, co-founder of trapping reform organization Wyoming Untrapped, told the commission that maintaining such a low wolf population jeopardizes the species and their integral ecological niche.
“These minimum numbers were not intended to be the long-term population goals for wolves, but rather the minimum numbers necessary to prevent wolves from requiring the protections of the Endangered Species Act,” Robertson said.