CODY — Citing what they said was a long string of broken promises by federal wildlife managers, a number of speakers shared their frustrations with the effects of wolves on wildlife populations and small businesses during a rally Saturday in City Park.
Gubernatorial candidate Colin Simpson told a crowd of about 150 that it was “absolutely ridiculous that we have not been able to manage” wolves to curb their predation on elk and moose.
Simpson, who worked as a state legislator to help craft Wyoming’s wolf management plan, said that federal wildlife managers have engaged in “grossly negligent mismanagement” of wolves in the area around Yellowstone National Park.
Several other candidates for state and local office, including gubernatorial candidate Ron Micheli, spoke or met with rally attendees, mindful of what a hot-button issue wolf management is among Park County voters.
The rally was organized by the Cody Country Outfitters Association with backing from the Wild Sheep Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and additional groups advocating for hunters and sportsmen.
“It’s not about getting rid of wolves,” said Randy Blackburn, a Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife board member, adding that organizers wanted to convince federal judges and other decision-makers to accept Wyoming’s wolf management plan.
Environmental groups have sued to block state management of wolves, arguing that allowing them to be shot as predators across much of Wyoming could push pack numbers below appropriate thresholds for long-term viability.
Neil Thagard, director of the Wild Sheep Foundation, rejected those claims.
“Wolf population objectives have been far exceeded,” he told attendees. “It’s time to have management with science, not emotion.”
Thagard said the foundation had invested millions of dollars in restoring bighorn sheep across the region, but that management plans allowing too many wolves and grizzly bears put that investment in jeopardy.
Hunters, guides and outfitters said elk and moose numbers across the greater Yellowstone region have plummeted since the reintroduction of wolves, and that guides, outfitters and other small business owners are suffering as a result of management plans that favor wolves above all else.
Some environmentalists and wolf advocates have argued that drought and other factors have played as much or more of a role in the decline of elk as has predation, an argument rejected by most at the rally.
“I’m here because of him right there,” attendee Mark Weston said, gesturing at his son, Cooper. “I want him to have an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.”
B.J. Hill, a Jackson area outfitter who attended the rally, said moose hunting in some areas there may be closed this year as a result of wolf predation, and that his clients’ success rates in hunting have been cut in half in recent years.
Elk hunting opportunities in the Clarks Fork area have been sharply curtailed as elk calf survival rates there have dropped steeply in recent years.
The wolf issue has united guides, outfitters, ranchers and others who have failed to adequately respond to numerous legal challenges filed by environmentalists, Hill said.
But some speakers said putting Wyoming game managers in charge of the state’s wolves depends on making the issue relevant and important to a much broader cross-section of residents.
“We’re in a battle for the hearts and minds of the public,” speaker Bryce Reese told attendees.
Reece, head of the Wyoming Wool Growers Association, urged listeners to speak to friends and neighbors about the issue.
“We can’t do this on our own,” he said.