Yellowstone Wolves Protected But Opinions Differ

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Gray wolf

Inside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, wolves are considered a national treasure, an amazing wild creature to be studied and admired. Outside, in the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, wolves are received with slightly less verve.

Many people in these states don't care much for wolves, although it's interesting to note that two surveys of Wyoming residents indicated that half of the state's citizens supported wolves and wolf reintroduction. But regardless of how one measures it, the wolf is a controversial animal outside the national park system.

Today, the wolf is still listed as protected under the endangered species act. Under this classification, wolves can be shot if found preying upon livestock, and as of the end of 2003, thirty-eight wolves had been killed by managers for this reason. Part of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's initial plan when reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone was to have the animals taken off that list, or de-listed, once the population was deemed stable and not in danger of slipping backwards in number. That point was reached last summer.

The equation also required all three states to come up with wolf management plans and then take over direct management of this wildlife species. Yet while Idaho and Montana's plans have been approved by the federal government, Wyoming's plan remains a sticking point.

This is because the Wyoming Legislature directed the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to draft a plan that would classify the wolves as trophy game subject to seasons and bag limits in areas immediately around the park, and as predators outside northwestern Wyoming. Under predator status, wolves could be shot, poisoned, trapped, and burned in their dens at any time of the year without any limits on the number that could be killed.

The federal government told the state that this plan was unacceptable late last year and to date, there has been no movement on changing the plan. In fact, Wyoming filed a lawsuit against the federal government on April 22.

Until plans for the three states are approved, including Wyoming's, wolves will remain under the protection of the Endangered Species Act and are free to roam all three states until an agreement on management in Wyoming is settled. That could be years away and has states like Colorado scrambling to come up with their own wolf plan as wolf numbers grow and wolves expand their range outside of Yellowstone National Park.

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