Hunters in Wyoming have killed two more radio-collared gray wolves involved in research—this time from packs that roam Grand Teton National Park. Hunters have already killed seven other radio-collared wolves from nearby Yellowstone National Park during this year's wolf-hunting season. "The wolves were part of a winter predator study that's been going on in the southern part of the Greater Yellowstone area since 1999," says Mike Jimenez, a wildlife biologist and the wolf management and science coordinator with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Jackson, Wyoming. The study is designed to help understand the effect that wolves have on their prey, particularly elk.
The Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves in Wyoming were removed from the federal endangered species list earlier this year. They are now regarded as a trophy game animal in part of the state, and can be hunted during a designated season. Wolves are classified as a predator in the rest of the state, meaning that they can be shot on sight any time of the year.
There are about 50 wolves in the six wolf packs whose home ranges include parts of Grand Teton. But these wolves also regularly spend time outside its boundaries, Jimenez says. As a result, wolves that use the park sometimes die in collisions with vehicles; others are shot if found killing livestock. The two collared wolves shot by hunters had traveled beyond the park's boundaries. "They also die when they're hunting elk, or in wolf fights," Jimenez says. "It's something that happens. We lose wolves with collars, and then we recollar more, just as we're going to do now after losing these two. It's frustrating, but not that big a deal. It won't stop the research." Wolves are routinely collared every summer, Jimenez explains, as part of the overall management program.
The Grand Teton wolves are not as numerous as those in Yellowstone, and are more difficult to see, so they have not attracted the same devoted wolf-watchers as have the Yellowstone Park wolves. Nevertheless, conservation organizations are paying close attention to the hunters' effect on these packs—and are demanding details about the wolves that have been shot. When radio-collared wolves are killed, hunters are required by law to return the collar within 5 days to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, which is now responsible for managing the wolf population within the state. Hunters are also required to present wolf pelts and skulls so that samples can be taken; biologists analyze these to monitor the wolf population's genetic health and diversity. The Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance has filed two Freedom of Information Act requests in Montana and Idaho as well as Wyoming to obtain the results of these tests along with details about the hunted wolves' age, sex, breeding status, and the locations where they were shot.
Overall, some 50 of Wyoming's wolves—or about 20% of the state's wolf population—have been killed by hunters since the season opened on 1 October. That level of mortality is sustainable, state officials say.
"We always knew wolf-hunting would come, and the service has always encouraged it," Jimenez says. "It's part of having very successfully reintroduced wolves to this region. When they're outside the parks, they're on public lands—and the reality now is that when they're out there, they're going to be hunted."