In the wake Friday of the federal government's decision to remove wolves from Endangered Species Act protection in Wyoming, National Park Service officials were being asked to act to prevent the predators from being hunted in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway.
Under the delisting announcement made by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wyoming would be handed management of wolves at the end of September. State officials have indicated they plan to open a hunting season for the predators on Oct. 1, with as many as 52 wolves permitted to be killed in the northwestern part of Wyoming. Outside of the state's northwestern corner wolves could be killed on sight as predators, with no bag limit.
"Current information indicates only about 10 percent of the Greater Yellowstone Area wolf population resides outside the Trophy Game Area in Wyoming, where they have been designated as predators and can be taken with very few restrictions," Fish and Wildlife officials said.
Federal law currently prohibits wolf hunts in either Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks, although one could occur in the Parkway as early as next year, according to a USFWS release, unless the Park Service moves to halt it.
“It is truly a shame that after spending millions of taxpayer dollars to recover the gray wolf in this region that the federal government would choose to permit wolf hunting within our national parks," said Sharon Mader, Grand Teton program manager for the National Parks Conservation Association. "Permitting the hunting of an animal fresh off the Endangered Species List within a national park unit is unprecedented. Under the administration’s delisting rule, even those wolves seeking sanctuary in national park lands—America’s most sacred lands—could be hunted.”
In the Park Service's Intermountain Region Office, spokesman Patrick O'Driscoll said the agency was confident it could obtain a ban against hunting in the Parkway.
“We are working with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, we intend to work with Wyoming Game and Fish to make sure that wolf hunting will never occur in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway," he said. “Rule-making (to ban hunting in the Parkway) is not on our radar. We don’t think we need to. We have a good enough relationship with the state of Wyoming and we have our own commitment not to allow hunting in the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway.”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar reached an agreement with Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead last summer to move forward with delisting wolves. Under the plan, the state committed to maintain a population of at least 100 wolves outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton.
In announcing their decision Friday, Fish and Wildlife Service officials said the grey wolf recovery program launched in the mid-1990s with the initial release of 14 wolves into Yellowstone has been highly successful.
"The most recent official minimum population estimate shows that the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population contains more than 1,774 adult wolves and more than 109 breeding pairs. Most of the suitable habitat across the Northern Rocky Mountain region is now occupied and likely at, or above, long-term carrying capacity. This population has exceeded recovery goals for 10 consecutive years," they said in a release.
"The management framework adopted by the State is designed to maintain at least 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs within the State of Wyoming. This is the same management objective as was adopted by the States of Montana and Idaho. The Service expects the Greater Yellowstone Area wolf population to maintain a long-term average of around 300 wolves, while the entire Northern Rocky Mountains Distinct Population Segment is expected to achieve a long-term average of around 1,000 wolves. These wolves represent a 400-mile southern range extension of a vast contiguous wolf population that numbers over 12,000 wolves in western Canada and about 65,000 wolves across all of Canada and Alaska."
Wyoming Game and Fish Department officials estimated the state's wolf population at 328 animals at the end of 2011, "including 48 packs and 27 breeding pairs. This included 224 wolves, 36 packs, and 19 breeding pairs outside Yellowstone National Park."
Conservationists were quick to criticize the USFWS's delisiting decision.
"In handing the management of wolves over to the states, the Service has failed to provide the leadership and demand the safeguards necessary to ensure that all of that hard work doesn’t just go to waste," Dr. Sylvia Fallon of the Natural Resources Defense Council wrote on her blog. "By initially setting recovery goals woefully too low, the Service has allowed the states to get away with managing the population down to inadequate minimums resulting in aggressive hunting and trapping seasons already established in both Idaho and Montana.
"Now, in an effort to finally wash their hands clean of wolves in the Rocky Mountains, they negotiated a deal to allow the state of Wyoming to treat wolves like vermin in the majority of the state – allowing wolves to be shot on sight for any reason – the exact type of practices that drove wolves to near extinction in the first place."