HOST INTRO: Nearly 3,000 hunters have purchased permits to target wolves in Wyoming's first regulated wolf hunt, which began on Monday. Conservation groups, meanwhile, are preparing to challenge Wyoming's approach in court. As of Thursday, hunters had reported killing six wolves since opening day. Rebecca Huntington has more.
REBECCA HUNTINGTON: These Wisconsin hunters are digging lunch out of the cooler while taking a break from hunting mule deer. They're back at camp where their two wall tents are perched on a scenic overlook, high above the Gros Ventre River. Below camp, the river, which eventually winds through Jackson Hole, shimmers in the afternoon sun.
HUNTINGTON: What you having?
HUNTINGTON: Their sights are set on mule deer. It's not until I arrive in camp that they hear Wyoming's first regulated wolf hunt has just gotten underway. Keith Wincentsen is from Greenville, Wisconsin.
WINCENTSEN: I personally was not aware.
HUNTINGTON: These hunters support the idea but say they are not likely to shell out the one hundred and eighty dollars it costs out-of-state hunters to get a wolf permit in Wyoming. Indeed, of the nearly 3,000 wolf permits sold so far, only a few hundred have gone to out-of-state hunters. Larry Meidam is from Ogema, Wisconsin.
MEIDAM: Yeah, I wouldn't go out of my way to go hunting a wolf. It costs too much money the way it is already.
HUNTINGTON: But Wincentsen has applied for a wolf permit in Wisconsin where a wolf hunt is set to begin soon.
FRONT DESK CLERK: Elk Country Inn, this is Cindy. How can I help you?
HUNTINGTON: This hotel, just a few blocks off of Jackson's Town Square, is popular with hunters. The hotel's long-time general manager is Dan Winder. Winder keeps close tabs on hunting in the valley, including the wolf hunt. In fact, he even has a picture on his cellphone of what he speculates may be the first wolf killed during the first day of Wyoming's hunt. He says he took the picture when an outfitter, who killed it near camp in the Teton Wilderness, checked it in at the Jackson Game and Fish office. Hunters must report their wolf kills within 24 hours in trophy game areas.
HUNTINGTON: Winder also has a wolf permit of his own.
WINDER: Actually, a friend of mine that lives up the Gros Ventre itself here. He's manager of one of the big ranches up there, contacted me and him and I went out together, early, early Monday morning. Opening day.
HUNTINGTON: While he has an elk permit, he says they were mainly after wolves. They had seen wolf tracks along the Gros Ventre River while fishing a few weeks ago and hoped the wolves might still be there.
WINDER: That's why they call it hunting and not killing. We didn't have any luck at all.
HUNTINGTON: But he says he'll keep trying until the season closes December 31st or when the quota is filled. In the trophy areas only 52 total wolves may be killed.
WINDER: So a person is going to have to be really careful and conscious of the regulations 'cus we definitely don't want to put a strain on the agreement that we have at this time. The only way that we can continue to monitor and manage these wolves the way they need to be managed, by the state, is to make sure that we do things properly.
HUNTINGTON: Ann Smith is seated on her back porch in Wilson, Wyoming, with her two dogs, Bandit and Inspector Clouseau [need to mention dogs cuz you can hear them]. She enjoys watching wolves in the wild and says wolves should never have been eradicated from the ecosystem. She says many of her friends don't realize that park rangers and bounty hunters killed off the species.
ANN SMITH: It was important to me that we bring them back. And then to have them be doing so well, and thriving. I realize that perhaps there are too many of them that they have done far better than anyone ever anticipated. But I don't think this hunting and trapping is the proper way to do it.
HUNTINGTON: Smith worries that she may now see a dead wolf draped over someone's vehicle. She says that would be a slap in the face to wildlife watchers. In fact, Smith questions the desire to shoot a wolf.
SMITH: My question has been, I would love to talk with one of the hunters who wants to kill a wolf, because I can't get my mind around how an intelligent person could want to kill something that looks like the family pet.
HUNTINGTON: So I asked Winder.
WINDER: Why would I go wolf hunting again? Because I want to be part of the management tool, because that's what hunters really are we're management tools.
HUNTINGTON: At another Jackson hotel frequented by hunters, 19-year-old Phedra Hyde runs the front desk. She's surprised to hear the wolf hunt is underway. But having grown up in the area, she's familiar with the debate. She remembers driving around Star Valley several years ago with her grandpa, who owns cattle.
HYDE: There was this one time he saw this wolf and he just got all kind of angry and said I can't wait until that opens up so we can get rid of them stupid animals, and me I just rolled my eyes. Yes, they do kill our livestock, but if we think about it we also kill what they eat.
HUNTINGTON: Hyde says she can see both sides in the debate over wolves, which is sure to continue. Environmental groups are hoping to stop the wolf hunt next month when they are allowed to take the matter to court.
For Wyoming Public Radio, I'm Rebecca Huntington in Jackson.