Gray wolves delisted
Gray wolf. Credit: Tracy Brooks/ Mission Wolf / USFWS
As of Monday, gray wolves in the Northern Rockies, specifically in Idaho, Montana, and parts of Washington, as well as the western Great Lakes region, are no longer protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The decision to delist the wolf was made at the 11th hour by the Bush Administration and met with strong protest by wildlife groups, such as Defenders of Wildlife, NRDC and National Wildlife Federation. But Obama Administration Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar decided to uphold the delisting, though he excluded Wyoming because their state laws were not strong enough to ensure the wolf would continue to recover. Wyoming has a law stating that wolves can be shot on sight, and the USFWS didn’t think would allow for adequate protection. For other states in which the species has been delisted, wolf management will be taken over by state wildlife authorities.
Around 5,600 wolves populate two regions, with around 1,600 gray wolves inthe Northern Rockies population. Undoubtedly the ESA has helped these wolves recover from historic lows. Gray wolves were one of the first species listed under the original law in 1973, which was intended to identify species at risk of extinction, identify critical habitat, and protect both. Wildlife groups oppose the delisting because it allows the current population to be reduced by two thirds before it would merit listing again.
Lawsuits have gone on for years over possible delisting of the wolf. The main concern is that without federal protection, the wolf is again vulnerable to exploitation and killing by ranchers and others who have – for lack of a better word –“issues” with wolves. On occasion a wolf preys on a calf, but Defenders of Wildlife has had a very successful program reimbursing ranchers market value for any losses due to wolves, the Bailey Wildlife Foundation Wolf Compensation Trust.
Defenders of Wildlife responded to the delisting with a strongly worded statement, which said, in part, “All the reasons why this plan was a bad idea when the Bush administration proposed it still stand today. It allows all but 300 – of an estimated total of 1,343 – of the wolves in Idaho and Montana to be killed.” They plan to sue to reverse the decision.
When asked for his reaction to the delisting by reporters at the Idaho Press Club in March, Idaho Governor Butch Otter leaned his head back and howled. He then added, “I’m grateful for the secretary’s confidence in Idaho’s management plan and I have every confidence that Cal Groen and our Fish & Game Department will justify his confidence by a well-structured management plan which will yield a sustainable population of Canadian grey wolves in Idaho,” Otter said.
Otter and some hunting groups have expressed concern over reintroduced wolves affecting populations of elk but the science does not support that idea, according to Jim Peek, a retired wildlife biology professor and former board member of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, who helped write the wolf management plan for Idaho. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation supports state management of wolves, but agrees that while wolf reintroduction has locally impacted certain elk populations, it has minimal impacts on elk numbers overall.
What do you think of the decision? The NRDC is having a live chat on the wolf delisting at 2pm EDT.