THE PREDICTED DECIMATION of the northern Yellowstone elk herd following the reintroduction of gray wolves has proven wrong: Instead of a 1-in-10 loss, the rate has been over half. At last count, 1,246 wolves–at or near the region’s carrying capacity–inhabit the Northern Rockies of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service won’t certify the wolf as recovered because only Idaho and Montana have presented management plans that classify Canis lupus as trophy big game. Wyoming insists on regarding wolves as predators (that can be shot without a permit) outside a trophy-game area around Yellowstone–a plan the USFWS has rejected.
There had been little movement toward an agreement until late last year, when the USFWS considered a compromise–if Wyoming were to expand the trophy area outside Yellowstone, the state could classify wolves as predators beyond that zone. Wyoming’s Game and Fish director Terry Cleveland says that elk and wolves in the state are coexisting, listing factors from grizzlies to drought as contributors to the drop in elk numbers. However, he says, “If we don’t get wolves delisted, the elk hunting opportunity is going to drop.”
Area hunters are ambivalent. Some see wolves as a threat to game; others want to hunt them as a trophy species. It’s up to the Wyoming Legislature, meeting early this year, to decide on the issue. Even if an agreement is reached, that leaves the animal rights lawyers to act–and they’re a species that’s never endangered.