One year after feds strip protections, states go all-out against wolves
May marked a year since Congress made the unprecedented political move of stripping Endangered Species Act protections from wolves in the Northern Rockies—leaving Idaho and Montana in charge of managing wolves in their states. The result: Hundreds of wolves have been hunted, trapped and aerial-gunned in an aggressive attempt to undo one of conservation’s greatest success stories.
In just a year, Idaho cut its wolf population by about 40 percent, to 600 or fewer. Under the state’s plan, which was approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Idaho has permission to lower the number of wolves to fewer than 200.“It’s as though Idaho has been transported back to the 1890s—to a time when wolves were aggressively targeted for eradication,” says Suzanne Stone, Defenders’ Rocky Mountain representative. “These extreme wolf-killing policies have no place in modern-day wildlife management.” Idaho is now planning to more than double the number of wolves—to 12—that a single hunter can take in the upcoming 2012-2013 hunting season.
Defenders supporters sent more than 150,000 messages to Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, Congress and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar asking them to stop Idaho’s extreme anti-wolf policies. A big shout out to all those who spoke out on the wolf’s behalf.
Meanwhile, Montana lost more than a third of its wolf population since May, with Reuters reporting about 260 wolves killed. State officials are now moving toward an aggressive anti-wolf policy similar to Idaho’s. At press time, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission approved a fall hunt that would eliminate quotas in nearly all hunting districts, extend the hunting season by two months into the breeding season, allow wolf trapping for the first time and permit the use of electronic calls—something that is generally not allowed for other game species.
“Caving to political pressure, Montana is basing its decision on anti-wolf rhetoric rather than science,” says Stone. “There is no justification for state officials to abandon what was once a more measured approach to wolf management. Livestock losses are at a five-year low and elk populations are above population objectives in the majority of the state.”
“Officials in these states are pursuing some of the same short-sighted, predator-control strategies that put wolves on the endangered species list in the first place,” says Jamie Rappaport Clark, Defenders’ president. “They’re treating wolves like vermin instead of managing them like valuable native wildlife. That’s not how these states manage other species like black bears and mountain lions, and it’s not a responsible way to manage wolves either.”
The wolf-kill mentality comes mostly from anti-predator residents who care more about protecting livestock and having easy hunting opportunities than safeguarding native species. But conservationists and biologists credit wolves, along with grizzlies, for helping to restore balance to an ecosystem that had been out of whack for decades because of artificially inflated elk herds, which overgrazed native vegetation.
In fact, the loss of major predators in forest ecosystems and the resulting explosion of large herbivores cripples the growth of young trees, causing stream bank erosion and reducing biodiversity by harming fisheries and other wildlife, according to a recently published Oregon State University report reviewing 42 scientific studies done over the last 50 years.
“Wolves are part of America’s wildlife heritage and play a vital role in maintaining a healthy environment,” says Clark. “States should be managing for robust, sustainable populations, not the absolute bare minimum to keep the species from going extinct. The American people made an investment in wolf recovery that continues to pay dividends in the form of tourism dollars and healthier landscapes. Studies have shown that wolf tourism brings in millions of dollars every year to the Yellowstone region. We should be building on that investment instead of undermining it.”