Game and Fish: Wyoming wolf population healthy for 20 straight years

A gray wolf in Yellowstone National Park. (Agnieszka Bacal/Shutterstock)

GILLETTE, Wyo.— Wyoming has completed a five-year monitoring period for its gray wolf populations reportedly showing the animals are thriving outside the protection of the Endangered Species Act, according to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD).

Last year marked the 20th consecutive year that the Cowboy State’s gray wolf population has exceeded delisting criteria under the Endangered Species Act. It also concludes a mandatory five-year monitoring period used to assess the population’s ability to sustain itself without the protections afforded by the act, per WGFD and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).

“Wyoming has a proven track record of successfully managing a fully-recovered gray wolf, and we will continue that approach into the future,” Brian Nesvik, WGFD director, said in an April 25 statement.

Wyoming needs to have at least 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation to satisfy delisting criteria under the Endangered Species Act.

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At the time of the report, Wyoming was home to at least 314 wolves and 31 breeding pairs across the western portions of the state including Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation, WGFD says.

The numbers indicate a steady wolf population due, in part, to hunting efforts carried out in the northwest corner of Wyoming, which require hunters to have a license and to adhere to set mortality limits and other regulations, per WGFD.

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Wolf hunting was implemented by the WGFD to stabilize a growing wolf population amid multiple confirmations of the animals killing or injuring 109 head of livestock including cattle, sheep, a horse, and multiple livestock guarding dogs.

In 2021, the department paid $208,124 to compensate more than a dozen livestock producers for animals killed or injured by wolves in the Wolf Trophy Game Management Area (WTGMA) in northwestern Wyoming, per WGFD.

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Mortalities from hunting were recorded in 14 of 26 packs that frequented the WTGMA and at least two wolves that had split from Yellowstone National Park were killed, WGFD says, adding that a total of 32 wolves were legally killed by agencies or hunters to reduce livestock predation.

“Wyoming’s wolf hunting seasons and strategy has been an effective wolf management tool,” Ken Mills, WGFD lead wolf biologist, said in an April 25 statement. “With hunting, the state has met our population objective for four consecutive years.”

Wolves across the northern Rocky Mountains, which includes Wyoming, are currently under review by the USFWS amid multiple petitions filed to have the animals relisted under the Endangered Species Act.

A determination on the review is expected later this year.