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The Mountain-Prairie Region


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

September 9, 1999
Ed Bangs 406-449-5225, x204
Sharon Rose 303-236-7917, x415

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

For the first time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a permit to a rancher in Wyoming that will allow him to shoot problem wolves on private 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.

Because of the unusual circumstances associated with wolf depredations on this ranch, the Service approached the landowner and requested his assistance in removing the offending one or two wolves on his ranch. Because the rancher is in the area daily, working with his cattle much of the time, the Service believes he would have greater opportunity to remove the depredating wolf or wolves than a Service biologist. 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 landowner has agreed to help and was issued a special permit, effective today, by the Fish and Wildlife Service. The permit allows a maximum of two wolves to be killed on the specified private property. As part of the detailed instructions outlined in the permit, if the landowner shoots a wolf, it must be left in place, and the Service contacted immediately. The permit expires on December 31, 1999 or is no longer valid when livestock are removed from the ranch to their wintering pasture as a result of normal ranch practices, or if a wolf in the area is radio-collared. The collaring of one animal would allow the Service to monitor wolf activities in the area and remove any problem wolves.

This particular ranch has continued to have confirmed livestock and pet losses caused by wolves over the last 3 years despite previous agency control actions that removed three wolves. During the past year the ranch has lost several dogs, a newborn foal, and possibly two calves to wolf predation. There are sporadic signs of wolf activity but there are no known radio-collared wolves in the area. Despite repeated efforts, the Service has been unable to capture a wolf in the area to place a radiocollar on it. Monitoring would determine if a single animal is responsible for the depredations or if other wolves are involved. Service efforts to collar and control this problem wolf(s) continue.

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 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 400 wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, and about 170 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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