Friday, April 4, 2008

First Western wolves shot

Well-known Yellowstone wolf among 4 killed

Express Staff Writer

A gray wolf feeds on an elk carcass near Stanley in 2006. Photo by Lynne Stone

A wild gray wolf trapped six years ago in Utah and returned to Wyoming was among four wolves killed in the Cowboy State within the first three days of the animals’ removal from the federal endangered species list.

Wolf 253, an 8-year-old male whose lengthy wanderings gave it near celebrity status among Northern Rockies wolf supporters, was reportedly killed near a state-managed elk feedground in central Wyoming’s Sublette County.
In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune, Eric Keszlar of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department confirmed the deaths of the well-known wolf and three other wolves.
The shooter reported the legal killing as required under Wyoming’s wolf management plan, Keszlar told the Salt Lake Tribune. He said the shooter’s name and disposition of the carcasses are not considered public information.

Born in 2000, the wolf was one of only two confirmed to have roamed Utah during the past 75 years. In 2002, it was caught in a trap near Morgan, a small community in the northern Wasatch Mountains, and returned to Yellowstone National Park, where it rejoined the Druid Peak wolf pack.

After 66 gray wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho in 1995 and 1996, the Druid Peak pack became perhaps the most well known and well publicized of all the wolves released in the Northern Rockies. The pack’s home range in the park’s wide-open Lamar Valley has made it one of the most visible wolf packs in the Northern Rockies and a hit with tourists.

Wolf 253, which had a visibly injured hind leg, was known to many wolf spotters in Yellowstone.

Last Friday was the first day wolves lost their protection under the federal Endangered Species Act in Wyoming, as well as in Idaho, Montana and portions of eastern Oregon and Washington and northern Utah.

Wyoming’s wolf management plan classifies wolves outside of the northwestern part of the state as predators, which allows unlimited, year-round shooting of them. Only in a small portion of the state where a string of federally designated wilderness areas surround Yellowstone National Park does Wyoming classify wolves as a trophy species.

In this area, the state will manage wolves through a set hunting season, which will include hunting quotas.

Idaho and Montana’s wolf management plans classify wolves as a game animal anywhere they roam. With last week’s delisting of wolves, hunters in these states may be able to pursue the wily predators as soon as this fall.
The killing of the wolves in Wyoming happened within the first three days of the animals’ removal from the endangered species list, local and state wildlife officials reported.

Two wolves, a male and a female, were killed last Friday near an elk feedground near Pinedale in Sublette County, Keszler said.

Scott Talbott, the Game and Fish official overseeing Wyoming’s new wolf management program, said one of the wolves was wearing a tracking collar.
Also last Friday, a rancher killed a wolf on his property because he’d been having problems with a wolf harassing his livestock, said Cat Urbigkit, a member of the Sublette County Predator Board, which provides predator control to local ranchers.
Hunters who kill wolves in Wyoming’s predator zone must report the time, location and sex of each kill to the state within 10 days.

“There has been a lot of excitement and interest for hunters in Sublette County,” Urbigkit said. “The predator board has nothing to do with that, but if the hunters are successful in their efforts, then hopefully the predator boards will not be called in on conflicts.”

Wyoming is home to 25 wolf packs living outside Yellowstone National Park, and seven of those live in the predator area. Wildlife officials have said that most of the 30 to 35 wolves living outside the trophy-game zone live in adjoining Sublette County.
Terry Pollard, co-owner of Bald Mountain Outfitters in Pinedale, a rural community southwest of the craggy Wind River Mountains, said he heard reports of many locals going wolf hunting over the weekend, but most didn’t make any kills.
“I think they’re finding just what we figured,” Pollard said. “These wolves are an extremely tough animal to hunt. There was a significant amount of hunters out this weekend, and very few (wolves) were taken.”

Mike Leahy, Rocky Mountain regional director of Defenders of Wildlife, said it’s hard to know how many wolves were killed over the weekend because of the 10-day requirement to report kills within the predator zone.
“In a shoot-on-sight zone, a large number of the wolves could be killed before Wyoming Game and Fish or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service even know about it,” Leahy said. “There could be big impacts to the wolf population that go underreported until it’s too late.”

Defenders of Wildlife is one of several groups that have filed notice of their intent to sue the Fish and Wildlife Service to retain Endangered Species Act protections for the wolves. Leahy said it’s too early to know whether the group will seek an emergency injunction against the delisting decision.

Wildlife officials in Idaho are investigating the shooting of a pair of wolves by a landowner near Ashton, just west of Yellowstone National Park. Officials with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said the wolves were shot Tuesday by an unidentified man, who later reported the killings. The officials said wolves had been seen near the shooter’s residence and his 20 horses that morning.

Ahead of the wolf delisting, the Idaho Legislature updated state law to allow people to kill wolves harassing or attacking their livestock and pets. The law does not require a permit from the Fish and Game under these conditions, but the incident must be reported to the agency within 72 hours.

During 2007, Fish and Game biologists documented 83 resident wolf packs in Idaho. The state’s population was estimated at 732 wolves.

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