Native American advocacy group Protect the Wolves is calling for a “no wolf hunting” buffer outside Yellowstone National Park.
According to the Jackson Hole News & Guide, the group sent a request to the Wyoming Fish and Game Department seeking a 31-mile “sacred resource protection safety zone.” The request included calls for a temporary suspension of wolf hunts across Wyoming.
Protect the Wolves Director Roger Dobson said the request arose out of concerns that Wyoming was more interested in removing wolves than managing them. From the JHN&G:
“It goes to show that Wyoming is not capable of managing their resources in the best interest of the public,” said Dobson, a member of the Pacific Northwest’s Cowlitz Indian Tribe. “They’re mandated under the Indian trust and public trust to manage our resources in the best interest of the public. It’s further mandated that they do not allow special-interest groups to suggest or affect policy change.”
Dobson’s contention is that Wyoming’s wolf management plan and its unique anything-goes predator zone was a direct concession to the livestock lobby that stands to benefit, and thus an illegal betrayal of the public trust.
The Public Trust Doctrine, of Roman civil law provenance, holds that publicly owned resources like wildlife are entrusted to the government to be responsibly managed on behalf of the people. The doctrine is a seldom-used tool in natural resource litigation, at least compared to more contemporary environmental laws, such as the Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act.
Protect the Wolves is an unlikely group to jump into Wyoming wolf management, a subject of long-running debate between conservationists and federal and state wildlife managers. The group, just recently incorporated as a 501(c)(4) organization, has no staff in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Dobson said he has 54,000 members and “tribal endorsements” all over North America.
Wolf management was turned over to Wyoming in March, following a decision from The Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. The state previously managed wolves between 2012 and 2014, before they were relisted on the Endangered Species List.
The news came shortly after one of Yellowstone’s most noteworthy wolves was found severely injured within park boundaries; it was later put down by park staff, who acknowledged it was already in shock and dying.
Last week, we reported on what a wolf hunt could mean for Yellowstone’s wolf population. Although they would be safeguarded from hunting inside park boundaries, hunting outside Yellowstone could cause enormous changes in individual and pack wolf behavior. Park biologists expressed concern that hunting could tamper with ongoing studies of wolf behavior.
Further, studies have shown wolf sightings decline in parks like Yellowstone and Denali when hunting is permitted just outside park boundaries.
Game and Commission officials hope to have hunting start as soon as this fall, with a quota set to ensure the most amount of wolves possible can be taken without falling below the legal limit required for a “stable” population. Dobson says the time is now to start calling for a buffer around Yellowstone, while officials are still deliberating. From the JHN&G:
Renny MacKay, Game and Fish’s statewide spokesman, said that a no-hunting buffer along Yellowstone’s periphery is not in the plans at this time.
“I think people could give us feedback on that,” MacKay said, “but I don’t know if that could be done at this point.”
As it’s drawn up today Wyoming has four wolf hunting units that directly border Yellowstone. Collectively, draft quotas for those areas would allow 13 wolves to be killed. Additional hunting of the large carnivore, reintroduced to the region in 1995-96, takes place on the Montana and Idaho boundaries of the park.
Although it includes 85 percent of the state, none of Wyoming’s wolf-predator zones are located within 30 miles of Yellowstone. If it were to be adopted, a 30-mile Yellowstone buffer would mean wolves would be safeguarded from hunting as far south as Ditch Creek and on the west slope of the Tetons as far south as Darby Canyon.
The only Native American territory in Wyoming’s portion of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, the Wind River Indian Reservation, is more than 30 miles from the park boundary.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2017 census found nine wolves on the reservation, where the Eastern Shoshone and Northern Arapaho tribes — not Game and Fish — have jurisdiction over the species. Members of the tribal councils could not be reached by press time.
Dobson acknowledged his proposal will likely fall of deaf ears, adding that Protect the Wolves is prepared to sue the state of Wyoming. The Guide mentions the group has already reached out to environmental attorneys and groups like the Western Watersheds Project.