Lawsuit filed to ban hunting wolves on Wyoming border
On Feb. 22, the Center for Biological Diversity notified the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) of their intent to sue over the “agencies’ failure to protect wolves from hunters in the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.”
The notification came in response to several incidents of wolf killings over the past few years on the Colorado-Wyoming border, and the lawsuit seeks a ban on hunting and trapping wolves across the entire forest.
“When Colorado wolves, protected by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), cross the invisible border and land in Wyoming, they’re in the predator zone and don’t have any protection,” said Center for Biological Diversity’s Collette Adkins in a March 8 WyoFile article, written by Mike Koshmrl. “This is the problem we’re seeking to remedy by putting pressure on USFS.”
The wolf pack
According to Koshmrl’s article, wolves disappeared from the Southern Rockies in Colorado in the 1940s and have recently began to reestablish.
While the animals are protected by the ESA in the state of Colorado, they do not have the same protections across the border in Wyoming, where they were reintroduced 28 years ago.
“Individual wolves from Wyoming have occasionally crossed the Wyoming-Colorado border into northern portions of Colorado. Over the past decade, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has confirmed probable wolf dispersals in 2004, 2006, 2009, 2015 and then annually since 2019,” reads a Feb. 22 press release from the Center for Biological Diversity.
Koshmrl states, “Crossing the state border back into Wyoming has proven deadly for the few pioneering wolves that have successfully dispersed to the Southern Rockies, where wolf reintroduction is planned for 2024.”
His comment is a nod to a specific incident, in which three wolves from the first modern-day wolf pack confirmed in Colorado were reportedly shot in Wyoming in 2022.
“In January 2021, two wolves entering Colorado from Wyoming were documented traveling together,” explains the Center for Biological Diversity. “That June, agency staff observed six black pups with this pair in Jackson County, Colo. These pups are the first known wild wolves born in Colorado since the 1920s. This family is now referred to as the North Park Pack.”
In the fall of 2022, Colorado Parks and Wildlife received reports Wyoming hunters had killed three black sub-adult female wolves within 10 miles of the Colorado border, in central Wyoming near the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) confirmed the killings, and agency scientists believe these wolves were part of the North Park Pack.
According to the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, wildlife rights typically fall under the jurisdiction of states, and in March 2017, ESA protections for gray wolves in Wyoming were lifted after far exceeding the state’s recovery goal.
In fact, according to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Wyoming Field Supervisor Tyler Abbott, the recovery goal for Wyoming’s wolves was 100 animals, but as of 2016, there were 380 in the state. Abbott notes this was too many for the national parks to home, and as the wolves began to expand their territorial range, they started to kill more livestock.
“The year 2015 was a record year for livestock depredations by wolves, and 2016 almost doubled those numbers of depredations. This is because wolves are expanding outside of their suitable habitat and looking for food to eat,” says Abbott.
Despite this, Adkins argues USFS can still take action.
“It’s very clear the federal government can preempt state laws,” she states. “There’s the ESA, but there are also other federal laws which speak to how national forests are to be managed – and those do take priority over state laws.”
With this, she cites an example of federal land managers trumping state laws to manage hunting in the Thunder Basin National Grassland, where they have placed a seasonal ban on the recreational shooting of prairie dogs in some areas.
“But, there are big distinctions between the group’s wolf hunting request and the prairie dog hunting closure,” WGFD Director Brian Nesvik tells WyoFile. “This was a very specific agreement negotiated between the local public, all of the agencies involved and the governor’s office. It was an agreement more than some kind of a moratorium.”
Koshmrl explains there are three non-contiguous blocks of Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest, spread across more than one million acres in the Snowy Range, Sierra Madres and Vedauwoo, that the planned litigation will target. But, Adkins notes it will only target national forest lands, not Wyoming’s predator zone.
“This lawsuit doesn’t hinge on the federal status of wolves in Wyoming, what it hinges on is the fact wolves are protected in Colorado,” Adkins says. “We’ve got federal land straddling the border. It really doesn’t make any sense to have wolves safe from hunting on one side and shot on sight on the other.”
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.