Taking aim

Aug 12, 2012 By Steven R. Peck

Wyoming is getting its wolf hunt, but this won't be like deer season

The reintroduction of the gray wolf to Wyoming in 1996 inspired a lot of tough talk from people who didn't want it to happen. Most of it swirled around the idea of killing as many wolves as possible.

Well, the tough talkers are about to get their chance. In a few weeks Wyoming will permit its first-ever wolf hunt in modern times.

That doesn't mean the opponents of reintroduction will get to kill as may wolves as they want, but it does mean that dozens of the canines can be killed legally. Along with hunters, who dislike having to compete with wolves for deer, elk and even moose, there's also enthusiasm for the hunt among many in the ranching community who believe it will lessen the likelihood of wolves killing livestock.

On paper, both of those results seems plausible. But a expert on both wolves and hunting says there is another factor at work, and it's a big one.

Wolves are hard to hunt.

There will be some early, easy kills, no doubt. The hunters who carry them out won't know what the fuss is about. But U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf manager Mike Jimenez has studied wolf hunts in other places, and he documents a relatively low level of success for hunters over an entire wolf season.

Wolves are hunters themselves, unlike deer, antelope or elk. They are quiet, stealthy, smart and resourceful. They are tough, calculating and all but inexhaustible. These are the things that make them wolves. If human hunters think they can just pick them off like pronghorns on the plain, they had better think again.

Above all, says Jimenez, Wyoming's new wolf hunt might not have the desired effect on unwanted interaction between wolves and humans. The wolf management plan puts strict limits on the number of kills, and there will be some areas where it won't be possible to shoot them at all. The wolves might very well learn where those places are.

Once the hunt is over this fall, will there still be wolves where stockgrowers don't want them? Absolutely. And will wolf advocates begin new initiatives through the courts to get the hunt thrown out, or the license limit scaled back? Of course. And will the federal government which only agreed to Wyoming's management plan -- and hunt -- with great reluctance, be looking over the state's shoulder every step of the way, ready to re-list the wolves or otherwise grant new protections? Yes indeed.

Fire away, Wyoming. But enter into this first wolf hunt with the realization that the wolf you might bag will be a source primarily of personal satisfaction, excitement, even revenge, rather than a large-scale situation changer.

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