Letters

A Wyoming reporter critiques Salon's coverage of Western wolf politics.


Salon Staff
June 15, 2004 12:00PM (UTC)

[Read "The Wolf in All of Us, " by Katharine Mieszkowski.]

The misstatement from Renee Askins about the "predator" status of the wolf totally erases reality. The sentence, "They refuse to change the legal status of the wolf in the state of Wyoming from a predator to a game animal or a protected animal" is untrue. The state has changed the status from "predator" to "trophy game animal" in the parks, the wilderness areas and some other land, all in the Yellowstone ecosystem, a portion of Wyoming considerably larger than many an eastern state.

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The wolf remains a "predator" elsewhere, but the boundaries are adjustable to account for changes in the population. The panel of biologists assembled to review Wyoming's plan agreed, 10 to 1, that the plan was biologically acceptable and would result in at least maintenance of the recovered population. Ed Bangs, the head of the recovery team, told me, at least a year before the big turndown [by the federal government], that the plan was biologically acceptable.

The authors of the bill setting the boundaries and the new status of the wolves worked closely with United States Fish & Wildlife (USFW) on its language. The [state] Game and Fish (G&F) Department tweaked the early plan to accommodate concerns from USFW. G&F, the legislature and the governor felt sandbagged when the turndown came.

One of the most esteemed members of the review panel, David Mech, said to me, and later, as reported here, to an audience, that "Wyoming's plan to classify wolves as predators should not be a hurdle to recovery of the species. Mech said the plan would allow Wyoming to meet a federal goal of maintaining 15 wolf packs despite unregulated killing allowed under predator status. The plan would work because it contains a provision to shrink predator zones should pack numbers fall below that goal, he said. Mech said he believed Wyoming would meet the 15-pack goal because it would be in the state's best interest. Otherwise, the federal government would put wolves back on the endangered species list and take away management from the state, he said."

USFW is allowing the other two states to implement the Wyoming plan by the back door. The other states are or will soon be allowed to shoot on sight, outside the recovery area, by the simple expedient of setting an unlimited season on wolves. We cannot do that in Wyoming, because under other state law, any livestock loss caused by a trophy game animal must be compensated by the Game and Fish Department, which is largely self-funded, with nothing from the general fund. Losses to a predator are not compensated. To prevent bankruptcy of G&F is one reason the wolf remains a predator outside the recovery area.

I believe the larger objection by USFW to Wyoming's plan is the requirement that the feds maintain at least seven packs in the parks, while the state agrees to maintain at least 15 in total. I'm of the opinion that the feds don't want to assume that responsibility, because they doubt the parks can carry seven packs in perpetuity. Given that the head of the National Elk Refuge has told me the refuge has lost fifty elk to wolves in a single day, I can understand their concerns. For a little more on Mech (and the views of two other Wyo journalists), read here.

-- Walter Hawn, KTWO Radio News

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