A recent nationally released editorial authored by Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland superficially addresses the issue of wolf management. As authored, some misconceptions need to be corrected, including the idea that states are jeopardizing the recovery of gray wolves. In fact, Wyoming’s gray wolf population is not in peril – not even close. For 20 consecutive years the number of wolves here has been above what leading biologists say is needed to keep wolf packs viable. Moreover, Wyoming has demonstrated extraordinary expertise in species recovery, from the black-footed ferret on and maintaining healthy populations of all our wildlife species. Wyoming should be lauded for its extraordinary expertise in species recovery and maintaining healthy populations. No one in Washington, or any agency there either, can do what we are doing on the ground in Wyoming
Wyoming received management authority in April 2017. The federal government and scientists who peer reviewed our plan set the recovery standard for our state at 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs. Under state wildlife management, these recovery goals have been continuously exceeded without exception. There are additional wolves inside Yellowstone National Park and on the Wind River Indian Reservation. But, those animals are overseen by the federal government and the Tribes, respectively, so they don’t count towards our recovery standard. In all this time, Wyoming people, wildlife, domestic animals and visitors have adapted. In parts of the state where wolves are not socially and biologically suitable, we do not try to insert wolves on the landscape. Achieving this balance isn’t easy. Wyoming did not choose to bring wolves back to our state – that was done by the federal government and without local permission. But, by making decisions at the local level and paying people who have had livestock killed by wolves, we are making this relationship work – and it is working.
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State management means we use the best scientific data and our decisions are subject to broad public review. This is not an effort by biologists and state agencies alone. We recognize the value wolves bring to areas where they are appropriate. Wyoming people have changed the way they work, recreate, and use our public and private lands in the interest of wolf management. Quite frankly, I am very proud of Wyoming and its people. Any insinuation that the Equality State hasn’t worked hard to protect endangered species is patently false and unjustified.
Despite the assertions of those who blindly oppose state management, success is defined in the Endangered Species Act as achieving recovery and returning authority to the state wildlife management agencies-the true experts. That’s what is happening with wolves in Wyoming now. We have a strong track record of successfully managing other large carnivore species like mountain lions and black bears. Both of their populations have increased over the last several decades. We continue to invest significant effort and money into conserving other endangered species like the grizzly bear, black-footed ferret and Wyoming toad.
This commitment has taught us that balance and predictability is key when managing wolves. It allows their populations to thrive, and also lessens the sleepless nights for ranchers who stay out to watch over their calves and lambs. Mankind must recognize that it is part of our ecosystem, not above it, and as Aldo Leopold put it “game can be restored by the creative use of the same tools which have heretofore destroyed it.” One of those tools for managing wolves is hunting. Using the best science available, we limit the number of wolves taken by hunters each year within their suitable range.
Wyoming has made a strong commitment to be responsive and responsible in our oversight of wolves in the state. We’re conservative with population objectives to ensure there is a sustainable population. That’s a promise that won’t change in the future as long as I am in charge of Wyoming.
Relisting wolves under the Endangered Species Act certainly won’t do good for Wyoming’s wolves. Under federal protection, federal biologists kill wolves that get into trouble with people, pets and livestock. The best available science supports what we are doing and any irrational move to place the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population back under federal control would create a true disincentive for the people of Wyoming to work cooperatively and spend our money on wolf conservation in the future. As Governor, I will not tolerate another federal power-grab and attack on Wyoming’s documented success. It’s preposterous that Wyoming’s abounding achievements for wolves are being recolored as an ESA failure. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dysfunction in federal policy and unwarranted decisions lacking basis in science pose real threats to our wolf population.
Mark Gordon is the governor of Wyoming.