By Jim Stanford on February 27, 2012
After being inundated with complaints, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has decided to kill the small group of wolves roaming the South Park area.
Mike Jimenez, the service’s wolf recovery coordinator for Wyoming, plans to dart three or four wolves by helicopter in the coming days, once the predators move into a suitable area away from a residential neighborhood.
The decision follows standard practice, Jimenez said today in a phone interview. The agency has had to take similar action in other towns around the region, although this is the first time in Jackson, he said. With wolves inside the city limit, passing through the Indian Trails neighborhood and even using streets, conflicts are inevitable, he explained.
“At some point, there’s a line where we’ve gotten an unbelievable amount of calls,” Jimenez said.
“This is progressing,” he said. “Wolves become habituated.” The agency has a long track record of wolf behavior in these instances, he said, and it’s only a matter of time before they kill pets. While so far the predators merely have walked through yards, it’s not prudent to wait for an attack, he said.
“We know when wolves get in these kind of situations, those conflicts come up,” Jimenez said. The South Park wolves are “at ease going near houses and going near people in houses,” he said. “We put people’s safety as a paramount issue.”
Jimenez, who has been involved in wolf management since 1986 and dealt with dozens of conflicts in Cody and elsewhere, said the wolves will be “euthanized humanely.” There is no more suitable habitat were they could be released, and the agency has not pursued that strategy in years, he said. At least one is wearing a radio collar, making tracking easier.
Killing the wolves is an ironic consequence of their successful recovery, he explained. Because packs have claimed the best habitat in and outside Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks, young wolves inevitably will roam during the breeding season and settle in areas where there are no other wolves — including residential neighborhoods in Jackson Hole where game seeks refuge.
The current location in South Park is “just not an appropriate place,” Jimenez said. “It doesn’t help wolves to be recolonizing inappropriate places.”
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(Map shows location of Indian Trails at the base of High School Butte.)
Although wolves have co-existed for years around Kelly, the Indian Trails neighborhood has a higher “level of human density,” he said.
The decision to kill the wolves was made solely by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jimenez said. It comes less than a month after the Wyoming Game and Fish Department trapped and relocated a mountain lion family that had taken up residence at the mouth of Cache Creek.
There are at least 38 packs and 230 wolves in Wyoming outside the national parks, Jimenez said, a healthy population well ahead of recovery goals. “Our bottom line is trying to do what’s best for wolves in the long run,” he said.
Update 3/13: Wolves have evaded capture.
(Protest photo by David Stubbs)