May 08, 2018
Wyoming Game and Fish Department
3030 Energy Lane
Casper WY 82604
Subject: Proposed Revision of Chapter 47 Gray Wolf Hunting Seasons
Dear Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD):
I am writing to you on behalf of over 1,500 members of the Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition), a non-profit organization composed entirely of retired, former, or current employees of the National Park Service (NPS). The Coalition studies, educates, speaks, and acts for the preservation of America’s National Park System (System). As a group, we collectively represent more than 35,000 years of experience managing and protecting America’s most precious and important natural and historic places.
We count among our members many former employees of Yellowstone or Grand Teton National Parks, who are quite familiar with the restoration of gray wolves to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE).
The Coalition is most concerned about the potential adverse impacts that Wyoming’s draft “Chapter 47 Wolf Hunting Seasons” regulation may have on wildlife and wildlife viewing opportunities in the immediate vicinity of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway. We hereby submit the following comments on the draft regulation found at: https://wgfd.wyo.gov/WGFD/media/content/July_CH-47_Draft-4-18-18-5.pdf
Wolf Restoration – The restoration of the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population is one the great wildlife success stories of the late 20th century and early 21stcentury. In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) reintroduced 41 gray wolves (wolves) into Yellowstone National Park as a nonessential experimental population under the Endangered Species Act with the goal of reestablishing a sustainable gray wolf population in the northern Rocky Mountains. USFWS was the federal agency charged with administering, monitoring, and managing the wolf population following reintroduction until wolves reached recovery levels and Endangered Species Act protections could be removed (“delisting”). The wolf population expanded quickly in number and distribution throughout northwest Wyoming. The population reached the required delisting criteria by late 2002 and has exceeded the recovery criteria every year since.
Wolves were first delisted in Wyoming in September 2012. This decision was based upon USFWS approval of Wyoming’s gray wolf management plan and related State regulations and statutes, and in effect transferred wolf management authority from USFWS to the State. The delisting decision was challenged in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., which overturned the delisting and returned management authority for wolves in Wyoming back to the USFWS. The District Court decision was subsequently appealed by USFWS and the State of Wyoming. The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of USFWS’s delisting decision and returned management of wolves to the State on April 25, 2017. Since delisting, wolves in Wyoming outside Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation (WYO) are monitored and managed by WGFD; and WGFD instituted a recreational wolf hunt in WYO fall 2017.
Under the terms of the delisting agreement between Wyoming and the USFWS, the state of Wyoming is required to maintain wolves at or above the minimum delisting criteria of ≥100 wolves and ≥10 breeding pairs in WYO, with Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Reservation providing the additional buffer of ≥50 wolves and ≥5 breeding pairs necessary to meet the ≥150 wolf and ≥15 breeding pair requirement for the state (USFWS 2012).While the state does not have management authority over wolves in all areas in WYO, such as Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge, these areas are small and the wolf packs using these areas are not solely contained within their boundaries. Therefore, wolves in Grand Teton National Park and the National Elk Refuge are assigned to WYO and potentially subject to being hunted as the animals move freely jurisdictions.
Hunting on non-federal inholdings within Grand Teton National Park – There are approximately 2,300 acres of State- or privately owned non-federal “inholdings” within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park. From the adoption of the Grand Teton Enabling Act in 1950 until 2014, it was NPS’s view that 36 C.F.R. § 2.2 and its predecessor regulations governed the treatment of wildlife everywhere within the boundaries of Grand Teton, including on non-federal inholdings. Apart from shooting of elk under the Joint Elk Reduction Program, no hunting or other killing of any other species was permitted anywhere inside the Park boundaries, including on inholdings. NPS reassessed its position concerning its jurisdiction in 2014 after a wolf was killed on a private inholding. On November 11, 2014, NPS wrote WGFD, stating (in part): “…we have concluded that 36 CFR 2.2 does not apply to private inholdings within Grand Teton.” NPS did not explain why it had changed its position. In 2015, NPS agreed with WGFD that bison could be hunted on State-owned inholdings, in essence abdicating NPS’s prior assertion of jurisdiction to regulate or prohibit hunting on inholdings within Grand Teton.
For decades, Grand Teton National Park has served as a vital sanctuary for numerous wildlife species, including bison and antelope to black bears and mountain lions, that are otherwise considered “big game animals,” ”trophy game animals,” or “predatory animals” under W.S. §23-1-101(a). The NPS decision leaves these species vulnerable to hunting, trapping, or baiting should they cross the generally invisible boundaries that separate federally owned Park lands from inholdings. This decision also creates the very real possibility that park visitors who come to Grand Teton to view wildlife in their natural habitat may witness the animals being killed on non-federal lands within the boundaries of the park. Since the NPS notification in November 2014, Wyoming has exercised its discretion to authorize regulated hunting of additional species – so far elk, bison, and mule deer – on park inholdings. Now that gray wolves have been removed from protections of the Endangered Species Act, presumably the State is empowered to authorize killing them on the inholdings.
The question of whether the NPS or the State has the primary jurisdiction for managing wildlife (including hunting) on Grand Teton’s non-federal inholdings is the subject of current litigation (National Parks Conservation Association et al v. USDOI and NPS, Case No. 1:16-cv-00552). While the Coalition is not party to the lawsuit, we agree with Plaintiff’s contention that the NPS erroneously abdicated its authority to regulate or prohibit hunting on non-federal inholdings within Grand Teton National Park. We realize that the current WGFD comment period is not the proper forum to resolve the jurisdiction question. We are simply providing this information as context for our comments below on Wyoming’s proposed wolf hunting regulations.
COMMENTS ON THE WOLF HUNTING REGULATIONS
1) WGFD’s proposed increase in wolf hunt mortality limits will adversely impact wildlife and wildlife viewing opportunities within Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks – Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are world renowned wildlife viewing areas. The parks protect some of the best and last remaining landscapes that shelter iconic North American wildlife species such as bison, gray wolves, and grizzly bears. Wolves and other “charismatic mega-fauna” are tremendously popular with the millions of park visitors who are drawn to the area every year. In 2017 alone, Yellowstone and Grand Teton combined attracted over 7.4 million visitors, who spent $1.09 billion in the region. And that spending generated over $1.37 billion in total economic output. Regrettably, the WGFD wolf hunt proposal gives no apparent consideration to the intrinsic, as well as economic, value of conserving this iconic species in its natural setting. Instead, it seems a capitulation to the yearning of a few to shoot a wolf. While we disagree with the hunt in general, we are particularly concerned about the proposed significant increase in wolf mortality limits over the 2017 level.
In Section 4(h) of the proposed regulation, WGFD proposes to increase the total number of wolves in WYO that can be killed during the hunt from 44 in 2017 to 58 in 2018, a 32% increase. To fully understand the impact of the proposed increase, one must consider it in the context of other causes of wolf mortality. According to WGFD’s “Wyoming Gray Wolf Monitoring and Management 2017 Annual Report”,in WYO there were a total of 162 documented wolf deaths and ≥238 wolves alive at the end of year, equating to an estimate of ≥400 wolves. Causes of mortality included: control = 61; trophy game hunting = 43; public take of predatory animals = 33, other human causes = 11; natural = 8; and unknown causes = 6. The number of wolf deaths versus total number of wolves equates to an overall mortality rate of 40% in WYO.
In contrast, only 5 wolves died in Yellowstone National Park in 2017: 1 was killed by other wolves, 1 kicked and killed by an ungulate, 1 died of canine distemper virus, 1 was illegally shot inside the park boundary and had to be euthanized by park staff, and 1 died of unknown natural causes. There were ≥97 wolves (in ≥11 packs) living primarily in the park at the end of the year, for a total ≥102 wolves in Yellowstone in 2017 with a mortality rate of 5%.
While it is not unexpected that wolf mortality would be higher in WGFD managed areas outside of Yellowstone National Park, the contrast is striking: 5 %wolf mortality in the park vs. 40% mortality in WGFD managed areas (i.e., WYO). As a result, the Coalition is very concerned that the proposed increase in hunting quotas will exacerbate existing levels of wolf mortality in WYO and adversely impact wildlife viewing opportunities in and near the national parks. We urge WGFD to reconsider its proposed increases in mortality limits. Given the other causes of wolf mortality in WYO, which are generally unmanageable, at most there should be no increase in wolf hunting quotas above the 2017 levels.
2) Section 4(a) as it relates to wolf hunting in Yellowstone National Park – As written, the regulation incorporates by reference W.S. §23-1-101(a) definitions of “trophy game animals” and “predatory animals” that essentially preclude State-managed wolf hunting (or hunting of any type) within Yellowstone NP. We agree that NPS, not WGFD, has jurisdiction for wildlife management within Yellowstone NP and support this provision in the proposed regulation.
3) Section 4(a) as it relates to wolf hunting in Grand Teton National Park – Section 4(a) of the draft regulation states, in part: “These regulations, and any allowance for hunting, do not apply to lands administered by the National Park Service within Grand Teton National Park (emphasis added) or the National Elk Refuge.” As described previously (in “Wolf Restoration” section above), wolves in Grand Teton are assigned to WYO and potentially subject to being hunted. In addition, given the previously described issue regarding wildlife management jurisdiction on the non-federal inholdings within Grand Teton NP, the proposed regulation is ambiguous as to whether the State intends to allow recreational wolf hunting on the inholdings or not. This section should be revised, as suggested below, to eliminate any uncertainty:
Section 4(a): These regulations, and any allowance for hunting, do not apply to lands administered by the National Park Service (add>) or non-federal inholdings (<add) within Grand Teton National Park or the National Elk Refuge.
4) Section 4(a) as it relates to wolf hunting on the National Elk Refuge – As described previously (in “Wolf Restoration” section above), wolves in the National Elk Refuge are assigned to WYO and potentially subject to being hunted. As written, the regulation would NOT allow wolf hunting on the National Elk Refuge. We support the prohibition of wolf hunting on the Refuge.
5) Section 4(i) precludes wolf hunting in the John D. Rockefeller Memorial Parkway – Section 4(i) states: “Gray wolf hunting shall be closed in that portion of Hunt Area 6 in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway.” We strongly support this provision and believe it is necessary and beneficial to protect this important wildlife migration corridor that provides secure habitat connecting the two national parks.
In closing, our primary concerns with the recreational wolf hunting proposal are the following:
1) The proposed increase in wolf mortality limits will exacerbate adverse impacts to wildlife and wildlife viewing opportunities in or near Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We urge WGFD to NOT increase hunting quotas above those identified in the 2017 regulations.
2) As worded, there is the lack of clarity regarding the intent and potential of the State to allow recreational wolf hunting on non-federal inholdings within the boundaries of Grand Teton National Park. We believe WGFD should revise the wording in Section 4 of the draft to explicitly preclude wolf hunting on the inholdings.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important issue.
Philip A. Francis, Jr., Chair
Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks
Jessica Crowder, Policy Advisor to Wyoming Governor Matt Mead
Sue Masica, Regional Director, National Park Service
Dan Wenk, Superintendent, Yellowstone National Park
David Vela, Superintendent, Grand Teton National Park