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Huggers and haters

Apr 14, 2014 - By Steven R. Peck

Interpretations of the newest wolf numbers will vary but ought to encourage both sides

So far, so good for delisted wolves in Wyoming and its neighbor states.

Two years after being removed from the federal endangered species list, the animal both celebrated and reviled in the West has proved its hardiness without the protections.

That ought to be reason for satisfaction, if not celebration. Unfortunately, the red-hot political atmosphere in which the wolves exist (unwittingly) will find much to dislike in the new numbers charting wolf survival since delisting.

In Wyoming, the numbers show that two seasons of hunting didn't reduce the wolf population. In fact, the Wyoming Game Fish Department says its most accurate estimate is that wolves actually increased their numbers by about 5 percent. The state thinks there are at least 306 wolves now, compared to perhaps 290 a year ago.

In Montana and Idaho, comparable state agencies chart a relatively steady population as well. Both states have more wolves than Wyoming, although Wyoming's wolf population grew more than either neighbor's.

Wolf haters will point to the growth as a sign that wolf management in the state remains too protective, and that restrictions on hunting numbers and protection areas ought to be relaxed.

Wolf huggers will say the sample period is far too short to make reliable projections of the animal's long-term viability as an unlisted species. It's too soon to alter the management plan, they will argue.

Operating in the middle, as always, are the wildlife managers who endured 15 years of buffeting while the wolf was listed. From the courtroom to the laboratory, from the public forum roundtable to the back country, they are trying their best to make judgments on wolves based at least as much on science as politics or business economics.

Certainly a year and a half of unlisted wolf management and monitoring can't and won't be the basis for a sweeping policy change. But the numbers so far do demonstrate that the wolves are a resilient bunch. They are existing well in excess of the minimum number deemed necessary for viability in the state.

That is a good thing. It means that pressures to re-list the wolf will be muted for at least awhile longer -- and putting the wolf back on the endangered species list is something neither side ought to want. It would mean non-federal management has failed, and in our state we generally prefer to have federal bosses keep their distance.

Coming up next month is the season-setting meeting for the next round of wolf hunting later this year and early next. Last time, the hunting quota was tightened slightly, and the wolf count increased.

Will that mean hunters and stockgrowers will push for a higher quota for the coming season? You bet it will. It's far from an unreasonable request, and the state's wolf tenders would do well to listen with open ears and open minds. The wolf numbers have achieved some equilibrium. It would be good if the human quarreling over wolves could do the same.

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