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The Mountain-Prairie Region


U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

January 14, 2000
Ed Bangs 406-449-5225, x204

Service Authorizes Wyoming Landowners to Help Control
Problem Wolves on Private Property

Today the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued permits to two landowners in Wyoming that will allow them to shoot a problem wolf on their property. Under extraordinary circumstances and as part of the nonessential experimental population rule under the Endangered Species Act, the Service can issue a special permit allowing a landowner or their designee to assist the Service in controlling chronic problem wolves.

During 1999, there were a series of livestock depredations and pet depredations on private property in Wyoming. Despite intensive efforts over many months, the Service was unable to prevent depredations on this private property. Because of the unusual circumstances associated with wolf depredations in this area, the Service requested the assistance of the two landowners in removing the wolf most likely responsible for the killing of their pets and livestock. The Service has spent hundreds of hours in the last year attempting to capture the wolves in this area believed to be causing the problem. The landowners agreed to help and were issued a special permit, effective today, by the Fish and Wildlife Service.

The permits allow the specified landowners to kill one wolf on either property. Each permit is restricted to that individual’s respective private property. As repeated searches of this area have not documented an active wolf pack, it is likely that if a wolf were shot, it would probably be the wolf that previously depredated on livestock and pets.

The permit allows the specific landowners to shoot from the ground a wolf on the property. Once either of them takes a wolf, the other will be notified by the Service that their permit is terminated. If they each shot a wolf before such notification could be made, those two wolves would likely be part of the same social unit and responsible for past depredations in the area.

By March 1, the peak of aggressive behavior by wolves toward domestic dogs usually associated with mid-February breeding season will have passed, reducing the chances of wolf/dog conflicts. If no further livestock or pet depredations occur by March 1, the permits will be terminated. Terminating the permit will allow any new wolves that may move into the area a chance to select a den site an raise pups in April 2000. Once wolves have denned and produced pups they are much easier to locate and the chances of the Service being able to locate and radio-collar pack members would increase significantly.

This kind of permit will be issued only under extraordinary circumstances which must include: a) designation of a problem wolf or wolves that are involved in chronic livestock or other domestic animal depredations as defined under the nonessential experimental population rules, b) a series (more than one incident) of agency-confirmed conflicts that agency or agency-authorized public action has been repeatedly unable to resolve, c) the potential for other agency control actions to be successful is unlikely, d) the wolf/livestock/domestic animals conflicts occurred on private property, further conflicts are likely, and the remedy will likely occur on private property, e) circumstances such as limited access, lack of radio telemetry contact with wolves in the area, weather conditions, vegetation and terrain, or other extraordinary circumstances as determined by the Service, inhibit the effectiveness of agency control actions to the extent that further agency control is not likely to be effective at resolving the problem.

The nonessential experimental population rule recognized that wolves would travel outside of Yellowstone National Park and even the Yellowstone area and that some of these wolves might cause damage to livestock. Since 1987 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and USDA Wildlife Services have successfully controlled these occasional problem wolves in northwestern Montana and Yellowstone and central Idaho reintroduction areas while allowing wolf populations to continue to expand their range and increase in numbers. However, the special rules for the reintroduction areas recognized there may be exceptional circumstances where agency control could not completely resolve conflicts. In these unusual situations, the special rule allows landowners to shoot any wolves actually seen attacking livestock on private land. Furthermore, once 6 or more breeding packs are documented, the special rule allows federal grazing permittees to obtain a permit to shoot wolves that are seen attacking livestock on public land. As part of the nonessential, experimental special rule, "50 Code of Federal Regulations," Subpart D-section 17.32, 17.84(i)(3)(x), the Service can also issue permits to private individuals to kill wolves if extraordinary circumstances warrant their involvement in agency wolf management actions.

The ability of the Service under the Endangered Species Act to issue a special permit for control of problem wolves aids in the conservation and recovery of wolf populations in the northwestern United States by quickly resolving the occasional conflict. The wolf management program recognizes that scientific and regulated removal of occasional problem wolves increases local tolerance of the majority of wolves which do not prey on livestock.

Even as the number of wolves continues to expand rapidly, wolf depredations on livestock are still relatively rare events. Currently, there are approximately 330 wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, and about 120 in the Yellowstone area. Since 1987 in northwestern Montana an average of only 5 cattle and 4 sheep were confirmed killed by wolves each year. Since 1995 when wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone and central Idaho, wolves have only killed an average of about 20 sheep and 5 cattle per area annually. Livestock producers have been compensated nearly $90,000 by a private group, Defenders of Wildlife, for confirmed losses that were caused by wolves. These confirmed losses are well below the 10-20 cattle and 60-70 sheep that biologists predicted would be annually killed by 100 wolves in each recovery area. Despite the overall low level of losses, wolf depredations can be significant to individual producers, thus the occasional individual wolves that learn to hunt livestock are often killed by wolf management agencies to promote wolf population recovery.

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