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Three Wolves Killed In Wyoming As History Repeats

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“The extirpation was recognized as a mistake even as it was happening. In 1924, a naturalist at Yellowstone National Park, Milton P. Skinner, observed, ‘We need these predatory and fur-bearing animals alive and living their normal lives.’ Balanced ecosystems require predators.” 

Paige Williams, The New Yorker April 4, 2022

Reintroducing wolves has been a cause of controversy since Colorado voted yes on Proposition 114 back in 2020, which allowed the reintroduction of grey wolves back into the state. The proposition passed with a shockingly narrow margin with the yeses garnering 50.90% of the vote and the nos getting 49.09%. This came after a similar resolution was rejected in 2016 citing the potential impact on big game and livestock ranching in the state. Colorado Parks and Wildlife plans to boost the reintroduction efforts by reintroducing wolves on the Western Slope by the end of 2023. 

Wolves In The Rockies

With or without politicking, two wolfpacks made the dangerous trip to Colorado on their own, despite the fact that they had to travel through the neighboring state of Wyoming, where it’s still legal to kill wolves. In 2019, wildlife officers announced that F1084 from the Snake River pack near Teton National Park had made her way down to Jackson County, Colorado, which shares a border with Wyoming. Last year, she further made history by birthing the first litter of wolf pups in the state in more than 80 years. Meanwhile, in 2020 the Pioneer Pack had a brief stay in Northwestern Colorado before they were seemingly killed in Wyoming just months before Prop 114 went to vote.

Now it seems that humans are continuing to complicate the natural migration of these wolves. On Wednesday, The Coloradoan reported that three black wolves were killed just 10 miles from the Colorado border in Wyoming, and while it’s yet to be confirmed that the wolves were members of The North Pack, The Coloradoan’s Miles Blumhardt included “in addition to three black wolves being shot, two black wolves and a gray one were with the three that were killed. The latter three escaped, according to the reports.” That coloring matches the description of the North Pack. Unfortunately, it’s perfectly legal for wolves to be killed in the state of Wyoming, despite them being just 10 miles from their safe haven in The Centennial State. 

Political Battleground

Wyoming law does not require information regarding the killings to be made public, and it’s unclear yet what the motivations may have been, but it’s not a new story. As Paige Williams wrote last March in her New Yorker piece titled “Killing Wolves To Own The Libs?”: “Livestock producers and big-game hunters have considered wolves an existential threat since Colonial days.” In the article, she looks at how Wolf conservation has become yet another political battleground, with several Democrats including Joe Biden and Cory Booker recently advocating for stricter protections for wolves across the west, while Republicans in Idaho and other states were pushing for even fewer prohibitions on killings. That said, despite some verbal support, wolf advocates are still awaiting the Biden Administration to announce its decision on its 12-month status review of wolves in the Northern Rockies.  In September 2021, the USFWS announced its decision to conduct an Endangered Species Act status review of the gray wolf in the western United States. In its year-long review, the was supposed to determine whether Montana and Idaho’s newly enacted policies in 2021, which encourage the widespread killing of wolves, threaten the recovery of gray wolves in the region. The announcement followed the USFWS’s review of two petitions filed during the summer that, according to the USFWS, presented “substantial, credible information indicating that a listing action may be warranted.”

Delicate Ecosystems

The rub between opposing viewpoints seems to lie between folks who feel their livelihood is affected by wolves killing livestock or big game hunters and those that saw the 20th-century campaign in the US to extirpate wolves as a huge mistake that perhaps conservation measures can begin to repair. As Williams later writes, “The extirpation was recognized as a mistake even as it was happening. In 1924, a naturalist at Yellowstone National Park, Milton P. Skinner, observed, ‘We need these predatory and fur-bearing animals alive and living their normal lives.’ Balanced ecosystems require predators.” 

Unfortunately, the world’s greatest predator sometimes fails to see the bigger picture. While sometimes wolves have killed livestock, in absence of other food options, they also regulate coyotes and keep herds of larger mammals’ numbers in check. It’s also been proven that many “wolf attacks” on livestock have been misattributed. Williams mentions Carter Niemeyer, a retired federal wildlife biologist, and current wolf advocate, who wrote a 2010 memoir called “Wolfer.” In the memoir, Niemeyer claims that often natural livestock deaths from infection, “old age, poisonous plants, and weather” are blamed on wolves. Many healthy Fish and Wildlife Departments also have non-lethal ways of dealing with “problem wolves” like the relocation efforts we recently saw from the USFWS in New Mexico with Mexican Wolf #1693, even though that too ended tragically. 

An Ongoing Battle

While there is still more to learn about what specifically happened this week with the 3 black wolves in Wyoming, the larger narrative continues: with those who view Wolves as mythological killing machines who must be stopped, and those who see them as a majestic and natural predators within a healthy ecosystem on opposing sides, and wolves, and their protections, continuing to struggle within the middle ground, resiliently battling for their continued existence in the American wilderness. 

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