May 10, 2013 - By Steven R. PeckScaling back number of wolf licenses this year makes sense
Not everyone will like it, but the state of Wyoming has made a good move in opting to decrease the number of wolf hunting permits available later this year.
Last year's wolf hunt in the state was the first in Wyoming history under state hunting regulations, following the delisting of the gray wolf by the federal government earlier in 2012. That delisting agreement -- a hard-fought victory by the state -- mandates that a certain number of wolves and mating pairs be maintained under the state's management.
Hunters had a good season, bagging every one of the available wolves licensed in the first hunt. That outcome was uncertain when the hunt began, but Wyoming's hunters were dedicated and successful. Had they not been, a similar number of hunting licenses might well have been granted for hunt No. 2. As it is, with the full allotment of wolves having been taken, the state is wise to cut back on the number of licenses later this year.
One of the warnings issued from this page and many other sources as the first wolf hunt approached was that in their enthusiasm to hunt wolves after all the years of federal protections, Wyoming's hunters might pare the wolf number down to a level within a hair's breadth of the mandated minimum number. Had that happened, a wolf death or two from means other than hunting could have triggered another drive to list the wolves as endangered again. Protectionist forces could have said hunting had pushed the wolves back to the brink.
In the mainstream, few people on either side of the wolf issue feel that relisting the wolves as an endangered species would be the best idea. It would be better for them to exist as an unlisted species, meaning that they have a viable population that can survive without protection while also being available for licensed hunters to take during a regulated hunting season.
This truly would be the best of both worlds for all concerned - including the wolves. It makes sense to scale back in year two of the wolf hunt to see how the animals respond after being hit pretty hard by hunters in season one.
Legal challenges to delisting, using hunting harvest figures as ammunition, already are in the works in the courts. That will be inevitable. Wolves will be a topic of courtroom action in this country for the foreseeable future, no matter what wolves, hunters, federal regulators and local governments do. But that doesn't mean that these challenges necessarily will guide policy.
One way to help ensure that they don't is to see to it that the delisted wolf population survives in its designated numbers -- no more, but no fewer, either.
It took more than 15 years for delisting to occur. This is a long-haul process, and now that the creatures have been delisted, we had better establish good habits and best practices immediately so as to avoid another decade and a half of court room circuses regarding wolves.
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