September 16, 2019


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Wolf Damage and Conflict Management in Wyoming


There are many positive ecological, ethical and aesthetic benefits associated with maintaining healthy wolf populations in native ecosystems (Weiss et al. 2007). Unfortunately, there are also circumstances when wolves can come in conflict with human interests. In Wyoming, these conflicts may include predation on livestock and pets and threats to human health and safety associated with habituated wolves. This Environmental Assessment has been prepared to analyze the potential environmental impacts of alternatives for the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Wildlife Services (WS) program involvement in wolf conflict management in Wyoming.

In 1994, the U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service and cooperators reintroduced gray wolves (Canis lupus) as a Nonessential Experimental (XN) Population (50 CFR 17.84 (i)) in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) and Central Idaho (59 FR 60252)1 . The Northern Rocky Mountains (NRM) wolf population grew steadily and expanded in number and distribution. The population recovery criterion of ? 10 breeding pairs2 per state (Idaho, Montana, Wyoming) for at least 3 consecutive years was reached by 2002, and has been exceeded every year thereafter (USFWS et al. 2010). The current NRM wolf population is at least 1,691 wolves in 320 packs, and 78 breeding pairs (USFWS et al. 2015); in addition, packs have been confirmed in eastern Washington and Oregon. WS, the USFWS and cooperating federal, state and tribal partners have worked collaboratively on research and monitoring of the wolf population and on wolf conflict management. These efforts have included radio-collaring and monitoring more than 1,200 wolves in the NRM to assess population status, conduct research, and to reduce/resolve wolf conflicts.

The WGFD and USFWS have requested that WS continue its role as an agent of the State for managing wolf conflicts (WGFC 2011, USFWS 2014). Any WS wolf conflict management actions would be subject to USFWS and WGFD decisions and authorizations (Letter to R. Krischke, WS, from M. Jimenez, USFWS, Wyoming Wolf Recovery Project Leader, October 22, 2014; contract with WGFD 2012) and applicable federal, state local and tribal laws and regulations and court rulings. WS wolf conflict management assistance could be provided on private or public property when: 1) authorized or approved by the USFWS and/or WGFD as appropriate, 2) resource owners/managers request assistance to alleviate wolf conflicts, 3) wolf conflict or threats are verified, and 4) agreements or work plans have been completed specifying the details of the conflict management actions to be conducted. Depending upon the regulatory status of wolves and applicable management plans and regulations, the types of verified wolf conflicts that could be addressed include: 1) depredation/injury of domestic animals, 2) harassment/threats to domestic animals, 3) property damage, and 4) injury and/or potential threats to human safety (e.g., habituated/bold wolves)1,.

Three alternatives for WS involvement in wolf conflict management are analyzed in this EA, including the Current Program Alternative (the No Action/Proposed Alternative) which continues the current adaptive wolf conflict management program, with nonlethal methods preferred before lethal actions are taken3 (WS Directives 2.101, 2.105). This alternative includes limits on wolf conflict management effective while wolves are federally protected under the ESA and managed under the special 10j rules (e.g., 1994, 2005 and 2008 10j rules) under which the nonessential experimental (XN) populations were reintroduced [50 CFR 17.84 (i)4 ], and authorizations from the USFWS or WGFD (Letter to R. Krischke, WS, from M. Jimenez, USFWS, Wyoming Wolf Recovery Project Leader, March 1, 2009; Letter to R. Krischke, WS, from B. Nesvik, Chief Wildlife Division, WGFD October 4, 2011). Under this alternative, WS would use and/or recommend the full range of legal, practical and effective nonlethal and lethal methods for preventing or reducing wolf conflicts while minimizing any potentially harmful effects of conflict management on humans, wolves, other species and the environment. This Alternative would serve as the environmental base line against which the potential impacts of the other Alternatives are compared (CEQ 1981).

Under a second alternative, WS would only use and provide advice on nonlethal methods for wolf conflict management. Under the third alternative considered, WS would not be involved in wolf conflict management in Wyoming. The limitations on WS actions under these two alternatives would not prevent the USFWS or WGFD, as appropriate, or property owners from using lethal methods in accordance with applicable federal, state and tribal laws, policies and plans.

The analysis evaluates the ability of each of the management alternatives to meet the established management objectives including the efficacy of the alternatives in reducing conflicts with wolves in Wyoming. Issues considered in detail for each alternative include: 1) impacts on the wolf population, 2) Effects on public and pet health and safety, 3) animal welfare and humaneness concerns, 4) impacts to stakeholders including aesthetic impacts, 5) impacts on non-target species including threatened and endangered species.

1 This rule established regulations allowing management of wolves by government agencies and the public to minimize conflicts with livestock. The USFWS authorized WS to investigate reported wolf predation on livestock and to implement corrective measures, including nonlethal and lethal actions, to reduce further predation. 2 A breeding pair is defined as a pack containing > one adult male > one adult female and two or more pups on December 31. 3 Nonlethal methods are generally implemented by the resource owner and usually WS is called after nonlethal methods have failed to stop the damage.

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