Well, that was fast: Wyoming residents have killed at least three wolves since they were taken off of the federal endangered species list this past Friday. Reports of a fourth wolf shot over the weekend haven’t been verified. All of the wolves were taken from Sublette County, which hosts the Wind River Range’s 30-35-member wolf population. The rest of Wyoming’s estimated 359 wolves live under more protection in the trophy game zone near Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.
Hunters reportedly flooded Sublette County this past weekend in hopes of bagging a wolf, since the only requirement for hunting wolves in the area is legal possession of a gun. Though most returned empty-handed, the state provides a 10-day period in which to report killing a wolf, so more wolf kills could surface in the coming days. One wolf was killed by a rancher who reported a wolf harassing his livestock.
Environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Natural Resources Defense Council have already announced plans to sue the federal government over the wolf’s delisting as soon as the 60-day waiting period ends. They may ask a federal judge to issue an injunction to suspend wolf killing in Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana.
“Once the 60 days are up, we’ll file the lawsuit itself, and then we’ll have to decide if we’re going to ask for an injunction,” Leahy said. “We’re choosing to wait and see how much people exploit the flexibility in the state plans to go out and kill wolves.”
“Injunctions are hard to get,” Leahy said. “There’s never a guarantee that you’re going to get an injunction from a judge, and that’s kind of why we’re waiting to see how things play out on the ground.”
Wyoming wildlife management officials have reminded naysayers that they have extensive experience managing animal populations, and they hope to be trusted to keep wolf numbers from dropping too quickly. But if the current rate of success continues among wolf hunters, two-thirds of the wolves outside of the trophy game zone will be gone before conservation groups can even file a lawsuit. Here’s hoping the Wind River packs can hold out that long. — Ted Alvarez