Wyoming’s draft wolf management plan could harm values such as wildlife viewing and the ecological landscape in Grand Teton National Park, park Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott said last week.
Scott made the statement in a letter to the Wyoming Game and Fish Department Sept. 6 during a formal comment period on the draft plan.
Six wolf packs used portions of the park at some point during the year for the last three years, Scott said in the letter.
“Many of the individuals who are supportive of wolf restoration are very interested in conserving the packs that use the national parks,” Scott said. “[Grand Teton National Park] visitors have consistently cited wildlife viewing as the primary draw to the park, and viewing wolves is of great interest.”
Further, wolves help keep the park’s natural balance, Scott said. “Our goal is to maintain wolves as part of the natural ecological landscape in the park, which will require designing hunt seasons and implementing management actions that maintain packs outside our boundary.”
“It’s important to note that, to date, packs that reside in Grand Teton National Park and adjacent national forest land have not been involved in large numbers of livestock depredations,” Scott continued. “We hope that strong consideration will be given to the fact that these packs are not chronic depredators and that allowing them to persist should help keep conflicts at a low level.”
In particular, Scott said she was concerned about Grand Teton wolves that move to the Gros Ventre drainage during the winter when the Wyoming Game and Fish Department is feeding elk on one or more feedgrounds in the area.
“Over the last 12 years, more than 50 radio-collared wolves from 10 packs that spent significant amounts of time in Grand Teton National Park also visited the Gros Ventre drainage at some point,” she said. “Most of these visits occurred during the winter when the feedgrounds were occupied by elk.
“This underscores the concern that multiple wolf packs could be eliminated or socially disrupted if wolves are targeted on or near feedgrounds without regard to pack affiliation,” Scott said. “We urge the department to consider all the implications of wolf management actions on or near feedgrounds carefully.”
In the letter, Scott also argues that the draft wolf plan’s seasonal trophy game management area — an area south of Jackson where wolves are treated as predators for most of the year, except from mid-October to late February, when they are treated as trophy game — is not based on science and should be made permanently trophy game. The winter trophy game status is to allow dispersing wolves to move to and breed with populations in Idaho, a necessary step to ensure the wolf population’s genetic diversity, biologists say.
“The biological rationale for the selection of those dates is unclear,” Scott said.
Scott went on to cite various studies that suggest peak months for wolf dispersal can range from October to June, depending on the location of the population.
“But wolves disperse at every time of year,” she said.
“Maintaining genetic connectivity between Wyoming and Idaho is important for the long-term resilience and persistence of wolves that reside in Grand Teton National Park,” Scott said. “The best way to ensure that genetic exchange occurs is to allow for dispersal year-round.
“Therefore, I urge you to consider removing the seasonal portion of the [wolf trophy game management area] and treat the entire delineated area as permanent … or, at a minimum extending the window for protection in the seasonal portion of the [wolf trophy game management area] through March and April to better ensure successful dispersal of wolves.”
Finally, Scott called the department to task for a portion of the wolf management plan that discusses the impacts that wolves have had on the region’s moose.
“We believe the statement regarding declines in the Jackson moose herd is misleading and implies that the decline was coincident with the wolves’ return to the Jackson area,” Scott says. “Data collected by the department demonstrate that declines in the calf ratios and trend counts began in the late 1980s, or about 10 years prior to wolves arriving in Jackson Hole.
“While wolves certainly take moose, existing studies suggest that several additional factors are likely at play,” Scott continued. “I encourage the department to revise this section so that it presents the declines in moose in a more objective and balanced light, identifying all of the challenges moose currently face.”
The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission will consider the draft wolf management plan during a special meeting at 11 a.m. today in the Parkway Plaza Hotel in Casper.