Wolf delisting makes conservationists howl
Federal proposal draws guarded approval from hunters, elected officials.
Officials announced a plan Monday to delist grey wolves in the Rocky Mountain Region from the endangered species list. PHOTO BY GARY KRAMER / USFWSView our entire photo gallery >>
By Cory Hatch
January 31, 2007
A plan to remove federal protection of wolves from all of the Northern Rockies except a small portion of Wyoming drew dismay from conservation groups and a wait-and-see response from politicians and sportsmen Tuesday.
On Monday, federal officials announced a plan to delist the gray wolf populations in the Rocky Mountain region, saying that the northwest corner of Wyoming could be left behind unless state officials draw up a viable wolf management plan. Members of the Wyoming Legislature, meanwhile, scrambled to pass bills that call for aggressive killing of wolves in the state.
The plan would remove Endangered Species Act protection for more than 5,000 wolves in the lower 48 states, placing management of the animals under state control. Wyoming’s wolf plan and law currently don’t satisfy the federal government’s insistence that measures be taken to ensure survival of the species around Yellowstone National Park.
End of discussion
Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance executive director Franz Camenzind said delisting all but the northwest corner of Wyoming hurts efforts to protect the wolf.
“I don’t like it, because that really ends the discussion about trophy game and predator status,” he said. “It ends the discussion as to where that line should be, and it seems like it’s a major acquiescence for people who want to kill wolves and manage them at a minimum number.”
Wyoming and Idaho have made it clear that they intend to kill a large portion of the recovered wolf population, Camenzind said. Montana’s wolf management plan is “barely acceptable,” he said.
Further, Camenzind said he is wondering when he will hear public outrage over plans to delist the wolf.
“I think there is going to be a major outcry by the people of this nation, who spoke out in favor of reintroduction, to learn that there is going to be hundreds of wolves destroyed in a very short period of time,” he said. “It tells me that the Fish and Wildlife Service and the state agencies don’t want to manage the wolf as a resource, an asset, and as a game animal. They are treating it as a qualified predator at best.”
In a statement, Defenders of Wildlife president Rodger Schlickeisen said state management plans in Wyoming and Idaho are “geared toward wolf eradication, not wolf conservation.”
“Idaho’s governor has publicly announced he wants to kill more than 80 percent of the state’s wolves, and the state has already begun planning large-scale wolf eradication efforts through hunting and aerial gunning,” Schlickeisen said. “Wyoming’s plan would allow 16 out of the existing 23 packs of the wolves in the state to be killed on sight. To accomplish this goal, the state would authorize poisoning, trapping and shooting on 90 percent of the wolf’s current home range outside the national parks.”
Wyoming legislators have three wolf bills up for consideration, all of which call for aggressive killing. Some techniques in areas where wolves would be protected as trophy game include long hunting seasons, high bag limits, aerial hunting, and waiving hunting fees for some landowners. Outside the northwest corner of Wyoming, wolves would considered predators and could be killed by any means at any time.
Cameron Hardy, spokesman for U.S. Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyoming, said lawsuits could pose further problems for the delisting process.
“I think he [Thomas] is concerned about ... litigation putting off delisting for an even longer period time,” said Hardy. Lawsuits have stalled the grizzly bear delisting for over a decade, he said.
In a statement Jan. 29, Gov. Dave Freudenthal questioned “whether any packs outside Yellowstone in Wyoming are even necessary.” He and others say wolves are harming wildlife populations and hunting, claims not supported by state figures.
“The ultimate question, though, is whether or not Wyoming will be given the flexibility to manage wolves that are causing an unacceptable impact on our elk and moose populations,” said Freudenthal.
Wildlife concerns Thomas
According to Hardy, Thomas has also expressed concerns about wildlife. “One part of the wolf issue is wolves endangering livestock, but it’s also wolves endangering wildlife,” said Hardy. “Elk in the northwest part of the state are already having troubles. I think he [Thomas] likes what the state has advocated for so far... that they have a little leeway in terms of being able to take care of wolves that are a problem for wildlife as well as for livestock.”
Bob Wharff, executive director for Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, agreed that wildlife is a key issue in the wolf debate.
“I find it ironic to have the Fish and Wildlife Service allow wolves to be killed to protect livestock and livestock interests, yet they are unwilling to allow any of the affected or impacted states to kill wolves to protect wildlife and wildlife interests,” he said. “They are the one factor that came in 1995 when everything started to nose down.”
Conservation groups and some biologists argue that while wolves do have some effect on big game populations, it is moderate. As of April 2006, the latest statistics available, Wyoming’s elk herd was 8,910 above the 82,645 animal objective. Hunter success in Wyoming for 2005 was 39 percent, a 2 percent drop over 2004.
Once the delisting is posted in the Federal Register, the public will have 60 days to comment on the plan. Officials hope to finish the delisting process by the end of 2007. Fish and Wildlife would continue monitoring wolf populations after the delisting for five years. If the wolf population dropped beneath the recovery objectives, the federal government could put wolves back under Endangered Species Act protection.
Officials estimate that 1,243 wolves currently live in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. The original recovery goals stipulated a minimum of 300 wolves and 30 breeding pairs for the region.
The number of wolves in Wyoming rose from 252 to 314 in Wyoming and Yellowstone National Park over 2006. Authorities killed 44 wolves for depredation incidents, and the conservation group Defenders of Wildlife spent $72,188.69 to compensate ranchers for 91 cattle, 31 sheep, and a horse that wolves killed in Wyoming during 2006.
People can send comments on the proposal to NRMGrayWolf@fws.gov or U.S. Fish and Wildlife Delisting, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601.
For more on Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves, visit www.fws .gov or www.fws.gov/mountain-prai rie/species/mammals/wolf.