By Jim Stanford on February 28, 2012
Despite pleas from the community, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will not relocate wolves from the edge of town and instead will euthanize them once captured.
Mike Jimenez, the service’s wolf recovery coordinator for Wyoming, said Tuesday he has fielded calls from concerned residents who wish to see the wolves released elsewhere. Jackson Hole homeowners even have pledged money to cover the agency’s costs.
But Jimenez said relocating the predators isn’t feasible, won’t work and won’t benefit wolves in the long run. Killing the wolves is a pre-emptive move to avoid potential conflicts, he explained.
“They’d be home before I’d get home,” he said of the three or four wolves roaming the west edge of town and South Park.
“We did this for years and years in the early days,” Jimenez said of relocation. The wolves would “take off on their own and end up hunting on their own, by people and livestock. It didn’t go well.”
He reiterated that wolf packs already occupy most of the suitable habitat around Jackson Hole. Wolves are territorial, and while sometimes packs do welcome new members, most will fight other wolves that intrude on their habitat.
Jimenez’s phone has been ringing off the hook since he announced Monday that the Fish and Wildlife Service plans to kill the wolves, which have been seen around the Indian Trails neighborhood since late December. Once the wolves move into an open area, away from houses, the service will hunt them by helicopter and radio signal, then dart and euthanize them.
Jimenez patiently has been explaining his rationale to all callers. He has fielded everything from complaints from wolf lovers to hunters asking for a hide or skull. He invited concerned citizens to phone his office at 307-733-7096.
Many commenters have pointed out that the wolves haven’t attacked any pets and only have passed through a residential area on their way to wilder country. Jimenez countered that the wolves eventually will become habituated and get into conflicts with people and their animals.
“As wildlife managers, it would be totally irresponsible on our part to see all the red lights go on and sit and wait for something to happen,” he said.
At least one citizen inquired about the possibility of moving the wolves to some sort of an educational facility. “Do you really want to do that to wild wolves?” Jimenez asked.
Jimenez acknowledged the situation is a “harsh reality.” While wolf conflicts have been mostly an abstract concept for Jackson residents since reintroduction (ranchers like Steven Gordon of Dubois might beg to differ), reality finally has set in, and wildlife enthusiasts aren’t happy.
Jimenez says people need to take the long view. Of those who pride themselves on living among wild animals and say the wolves should stay, he said, “Is that helping wildlife or helping people? The fact that people like seeing wildlife close by, that’s cool, but that has nothing to do with what’s best for wolves.”
There’s still a chance the wolves could escape, Jimenez said. Biologists won’t fly until the weather clears and the predators are out in the open, away from town, so that means the wolves have at least a few days to wander to a safer area.
“If they disappear, that’d be great,” Jimenez said. “I’d be the happiest person.”
Update 3/13: Wolves have evaded capture.
(Wolf photo by Scott Flaherty; both via USFWS)