June 14, 2013

Delisting decried nationwide – While the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service tried to paint last week’s announcement as a resounding success, many newspapers saw the national delisting proposal quite differently. An editorial from Oregon’s Register-Guard, for example, noted that leading wildlife biologists say that wolf numbers have not reached sustainable levels in key parts of the species historic range. The paper also criticized Northern Rockies states for killing more than 1,000 wolves only two years after Endangered Species Act protections were removed in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Never before has an imperiled species gone from being fully protected one day, to being aggressively hunted the next.

Wolves, courtesy Montana FWPThe Salt Lake Tribune picked up on a similar theme, saying that delisting is premature, especially when the wolf still faces such hatred out West. For many wolf opponents, wolf “management” means killing as many wolves as possible. But treating wolves like unwanted vermin completely ignores the vital ecological role they play in maintaining healthy, balanced ecosystems.

In a New York Times op-ed, Jim, Jamie and Garrick Dutcher contrast the rush to strip federal protection for gray wolves with the more measured approach taken with the recovery of iconic species like the bald eagle and American alligator. Those species were not delisted until stable populations had recovered across a greater portion of available habitat. Bald eagles were soaring in the skies from coast to coast before protections were removed. And alligators were swimming not just in the Florida Everglades, but in Louisiana bayous and halfway up the Atlantic sea board by the time states took over management. More importantly, neither species has been persecuted like wolves have been.

But there’s more at stake than just poor state management. As our top wolf expert Suzanne Stone points out, stripping federal protection likely means that wolves will never even make it to places like Colorado, where there is excellent habitat but no wolves. (Listen to the full story on Northwest Public Radio)

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officially published its proposal this week and will be taking public comments for the next 90 days. Make sure you tell the Service as well as Interior Secretary Sally Jewell not to give up on wolf recovery!
Click here to submit your comments!

Don’t blame wolves for elk decline — Wyoming researchers are uncovering new information that may cause all of us to revisit our understanding of how elk and wolves interact. In a recent three-year study, biologists with the Wyoming Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit found that elk do not dramatically change their behavior in the presence of wolves, as previously thought. Specifically, the study team found that elk that encountered wolves more often were just as likely to retain fat and get pregnant as those that had fewer wolf encounters.

These findings directly undermine the claims of anti-wolf extremists who have blamed wolves for declining elk herds in select areas. Many wolf opponents have claimed that wolves frighten elk and prevent them from eating enough food to maintain weight and get pregnant, but the current study would seem to contradict that argument. The bigger influence may come from direct predation by grizzly bears as well as other factors like drought and climate change.

It also appears, however, that wolves may not be the primary or only driver of “trophic cascades” that have restored native vegetation in certain parts of Yellowstone National Park. Many biologists provide compelling evidence that wolves help keep elk and other ungulates on the move, thus preventing them from destroying communities of young willow and aspen trees.  This study indicates that the effect of wolves may be far more subtle in certain landscapes.  Another paper released this week from Poland indicates that the trophic cascade benefits of wolf predation may have greater influence in woody habitat as opposed to open range.

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