CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — The National Rifle Association and Safari Club International are blaming wolves for bringing down the quality of big-game hunting in northwestern Wyoming.
The hunting groups are now pushing to intervene in two lawsuits pending in federal courts in Washington, D.C., and Wyoming. The groups want to oppose environmental groups' push to reinstate federal protections for wolves in Wyoming.
Nearly 70 wolves have been killed in Wyoming since the federal protections ended last October. Wyoming allows trophy hunting for them in a zone around Yellowstone National Park and classifies wolves as unprotected predators in the rest of the state.
Both the state of Wyoming and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are arguing against the environmental groups' call for reinstating federal protections for the wolf.
Wyoming has pledged to maintain at least 10 breeding pairs of wolves and at least 100 animals outside of Yellowstone and the Wind River Indian Reservation. Wildlife managers say the state had about 300 wolves outside of Yellowstone, where no hunting is allowed, when state management began.
While environmental groups say Wyoming's management plan doesn't give wolves adequate protection to ensure their long-term survival, the NRA and Safari Club say that wolf predation on elk and moose is reducing hunting opportunities.
The hunting groups early this month filed to intervene in one lawsuit pending in federal court in Cheyenne. They filed a similar motion last week to intervene in the similar Washington DC litigation.
In both cases, the NRA and Safari Club have filed statements from their members saying they've seen the numbers of elk and moose decline in northwestern Wyoming in recent years.
A statement from Safari Club member Danny Dean Mangus of Glenrock was filed in both lawsuits. He stated he now hunts mainly in central Wyoming to get away from the wolves and grizzly bears in the northwest corner of the state.
"You take an animal like the wolf, and he's just turned free to rule, and he really doesn't have an enemy except man, and he's going to flourish pretty well," Mangus said Tuesday.
"I'm not for eliminating the wolves, they're a neat animal, they really are," Mangus said. "But you've got to manage those the same as the elk, the deer, the antelope, the bear the lions. All those are managed."
Doug Brimeyer, wildlife biologist with the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, said that while many factors influence the population of game herds, he sees no doubt that wolves have reduced both elk and moose numbers from Jackson north to Yellowstone.
Brimeyer said Monday that Wyoming issued nearly 600 moose licenses in the early 1990s in the area from Jackson north to Yellowstone, and from the Idaho line east to the Continental Divide. He said that's now down to 15 licenses.
In one moose winter range area in the Moran Junction area, east of Grand Teton National Park, Brimeyer said moose populations have fallen from as many as 20 per square kilometer in the 1960s to as few than two per square kilometer.
Elk populations have dropped in the same area, Brimeyer said. While researchers counted 750 elk from 2000 to 2006, Brimeyer said he counted only 90 this year. He said the game department has cut elk licenses there as a result.
Brimeyer said he believes that hunting wolves, now that they're under state management, will give animal herds some relief. "My hope is that instead of having pack sizes of 15 plus, we'll have pack sizes of less," he said. "It makes it a little bit easier on the prey populations to not have such large packs."
Tim Preso, a Montana lawyer, represents a coalition of environmental groups challenging the wolf delisting in the pending Washington, D.C., case. He said Tuesday he won't oppose the request by the NRA and the Safari Club to intervene, as they have in past litigation over wolf management. Environmental groups in the Wyoming wolf litigation are opposing intervention by the hunting groups.
Preso said the Wyoming Game and Fish Department reports elk herds in much of the state exceed their population objectives.
"One the one hand you've got folks like the Safari Club saying that the wolves are killing all the elk, and on the other hand, you've got Game and Fish handing out additional licenses and tags in an effort to reduce the elk population through hunting," Preso said. "So I tend to side with the data from the wildlife agencies in terms of elk population levels."