Bush Administration Plan to Remove Wolf Protections Draws Criticism

Gray wolf. Kurt Repanshek photo

Can the gray wolf survive in the greater Yellowstone area under the government's plan to remove the species from Endangered Species Act protection? Kurt Repanshek photo.

If a wolf turns up in Rocky Mountain National Park, it will be protected by the Endangered Species Act. But plans by the Bush administration to remove ESA protection from Yellowstone's wolves could make it incredibly hard for the predators to migrate down to Colorado.

Lynn Scarlett, a deputy secretary at the Interior Department, today announced plans to formally remove wolves in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, central Idaho, Montana, and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah, from the endangered species list. Under the plan, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will post a notice announcing the delisting in the Federal Register on February 27th, and 30 days later the plan will take effect.

"The wolf population in the Northern Rockies has far exceeded its recovery goal and continues to expand its size and range. States, tribes, conservation groups, federal agencies and citizens of both regions can be proud of their roles in this remarkable conservation success story," said Ms. Scarlett, noting that there are currently more than 1,500 wolves and at least 100 breeding pairs in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.

That news sparked an immediate reply from the Natural Resources Defense Council that it would go to court in a bid to halt the delisting.

“Americans will howl with rage when they learn that their government is jeopardizing this iconic animal,” said NRDC’s Louisa Willcox. “Why snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when we’ve made so much progress toward recovering wolves in the Greater Yellowstone region?”

Some scientists -- even the federal government's coordinator for the wolf recovery program -- have voiced varying concerns with the delisting proposal. They contend the plan that would allow the Northern Rockies' wolf population to shrink to just 300 individuals could jeopardize the species in the region. Some also note that the genetic pool of the greater Yellowstone population is isolated, that more than a decade after the park's wolf recovery program began the genetic material is all descended from the initial pairs of wolves put into the park with no infusion from wolf packs in Idaho or northern Montana.

"There is also no observed immigration into Yellowstone National Park from the subpopulation of wolves that have expanded from YNP into Wyoming, making both subpopulations isolated from each other," Robert K. Wayne, a biology professor at UCLA, wrote in commenting on the delisting proposal. "Given continued isolation and the current population level of approximately 170 wolves in YNP, heterozygosity levels will undeniably begin to decrease while inbreeding coefficients increase over the coming decades.

"We estimated that only a much larger population (greater than 600 individuals) of wolves in the GYA would be able to maintain the current levels of genetic diversity."

The bottom line, he said, is that the delisting plan could doom wolves in the greater Yellowstone area.

"Much scientific knowledge has been gained since the original conception of the service's recovery goals in 1987 and 1994 including developments in conservation biology theory, minimum viable population analysis, population genetics and observation data of wolves," the professor wrote. "We have found using genetic techniques that the three recovery populations have less connectivity than expected under the original recovery plan. Consequently, the Service's recovery goals substantially underestimate the number of wolves needed for a genetically healthy and self-sustaining meta-population."

Ed Bangs, who has overseen the wolf recovery program in the Yellowstone area since the mid-1990s, told Science magazine in an article published last week that he thinks the plan's requirement that each of the three states maintains wolf populations of no more than 100 animals is too low.

Fish and Wildlife, he said, "surveyed 80 scientists around the world. Between 75 percent and 80 percent of them thought that this goal was good enough, although I, personally, think it is too low," said Mr. Bangs. "But the broad consensus was that this definition represents a minimum viable population."

While there has been evidence recently that a wolf from Yellowstone might have made it down to Rocky Mountain National Park, if the delisting goes forward the odds of additional wolves making the journey south would be incredibly long. Under the government's proposal, Ms. Willcox tells me, in most of Wyoming outside the Grand Teton-Yellowstone area wolves will encounter a "shoot on sight, free-fire zone."

And not only will the general public in those areas be able to shoot wolves, she says, but the federal government's Wildlife Services arm, whose mission is to "resolve wildlife conflicts and create a balance that allows people and wildlife to coexist peacefully," recently purchased two airplanes for use in aerial predator control in Wyoming.

“This rule does diminish prospects of recovery in Colorado,” says Ms. Willcox. “They may not see wolves (in Colorado) under this delisting plan if it gets under way.”

Concerns voiced by officials in Wyoming and Idaho over wolves revolve largely around livestock predation. According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, from 1987 through 2005 wolves in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho combined killed 528 cattle and 1,318 sheep. In return, the Fish and Wildlife Service relocated 117 wolves, while another 396 were killed either by the service or by ranchers.

Also criticizing the planned delisting today was Defenders of Wildlife, an organization that played a role in Yellowstone's wolf recovery program by creating a compensation program for ranchers who lost livestock to wolves.

"We will support delisting of the Northern Rockies wolf when the states establish sustainable management plans that ensure viable, interconnected wolf populations throughout the region," said the group's president, Rodger Schlickeisen. "Unfortunately, the current state plans seem designed to lead only to the dramatic decline and need for quick relisting of the wolf. That's not in anyone's best interest."

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Wolf Delisting Q&A.pdf33.34 KB
NRDC Wolf Delisting Petition.pdf195.56 KB

Comments

Who counts these wolves? Can their numbers be considered accurate? We should be demanding verification of the counts. To remove the wolf from the endangered list without accurate data would be tragic.

One environmental group has actually come out in support of delisting.

See the press release from the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

the head of the gyc is a member of the ranching community, which has not been favorable at all to the wolf recovery for the most part, in addition, they have been virtually silent in the bison migrations, which requrie they be rounded up and slaughtered if they leave the park,,,,up to appx 300 have been sent to slaughter already this year, so dont think that because a group that has Yellowstones name in it is a wolf friendly group

Under the government's proposal, Ms. Willcox tells me, in most of Wyoming outside the Grand Teton-Yellowstone area wolves will encounter a "shoot on sight, free-fire zone."

The above statement doesn't reveal the whole truth. Wyoming's management plan classifies wolves as both a trophy game species and a predator and the predator status has nothing to do with their biological role and everything to do with how they are slaughtered - er, ah, "managed."

In the trophy game areas, just outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton, hunting licenses will be issued. In the rest of the state, the wolf may be killed by ANY MEANS, BY ANYBODY, AT ANY TIME, no license or firearm required.

In the "good 'ole days," livestock producers have been known to trap or snare wolves, cut their leg tenons and let their dogs shred them alive.

Wyoming's wolf management plan would not prohibit this method where wolves are classified as predators.

Wolf pups, in their dens, could be doused with gasoline and burned alive.

Somewhere, on the 'net, I saw a wolf with a shark hook through it's muzzle, hanging above the ground. Can you imagine the slow and painful death? I wish I'd saved the pic.

Wyoming's wolf management plan would not prohibit the above methods where wolves are classified as predators.

Get the picture? It’s going to be really nasty but you know what? There won’t be any witnesses. Well, there won’t be any human witnesses, anyway. The Creator will know.

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Here’s GYC’s press release:

http://www.greateryellowstone.org/press/article.php?article_id=1835

Note GYC chair Todd Graham is a “ranching consultant” from Bozeman. What is a “ranching consultant” and why is he the chair of GYC? Someone told me Graham is or was the manager of the Sun ranch where a ranch hand ran repeatedly over a wolf with a ORV to kill it? Anyone know if he was the manager in charge?

I think GYC’s decision to endorse the premature delisting is a huge mistake. I suspect many of their members are extremely disappointed.

GYC is essentially endorsing Wyoming’s dual-status classification, in effect approving killing wolves outside the trophy game areas by any means whatsoever, by anybody, at any time.

--

Mack P. Bray
My opinions are my own

wildlifewatchers@bresnan.net
http://wildlifewatchers.jottit.com/

OK, lets see if I understand this whole mess. At one time Wolves were abundant in all of these areas. Then, they were almost killed off by hunters, ranchers etc... so the wolves were placed on the endangered list and were safe from some of the awful deaths Mack had described. Then someone decided there were not enough wolves in certain places (I agree with Fred, who and how do the wolves get counted?) so they were placed in these areas. Why? So humans could get a glimpse of them? Now it has gone back to too many and some folks want to basically kill or I mean cull the herd so to speak. Now it looks like the lives of a lot of wolves will suffer some pretty awful and inhumane deaths. What is wrong with this picture? After the dust settles, there will once again be too few wolves out there and the whole nasty process will go through the greusome cycle once again. OK, No I don't understand this whole mess!
I'm not a tree hugger or hunter or a rancher or a government official, I'm just a lowley dog trainer who enjoys the great outdoors and probably will never understand this nonsense! Thanks for listening.

I didn't point out GYC's support of delisting to suggest that I support it as well. I was sitting at a table yesterday in Bozeman with some buffalo supporters, and the conversation turned to wolf delisting. I won't share most of what we talked about, but I will say that we were talking about Montana's plan - the supposed best of the bunch - and how bad it really is. And, that looks relatively good compared to Wyoming where in parts of the state they will be classified as vermin (which is also how they classify coyotes).

I pointed the article out simply for people's information. A GYC rep has written guest columns here on the snowmobile issue; it's just interesting to see how they've broken with other groups on wolves.

And, yes, there is a remarkable lack of solidarity when it comes to buffalo. But, that's all I'll say about that for now.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Eric,

It was a government sponsored action~to eliminate wolves from the landscape~in order to entice ranchers to move their operations out here for a couple reasons. One; it isn't financially viable to operate ranching out here without a "cleansed" environment sans predators: Second; they wanted to have all the land "occupied" to deter the indigenous peoples from leaving their concentration camps... same story on the bison, they eat grass that is in short supply for the multitudes of cattle that they introduced to the region a little over a hundred years ago.

The reason wolves matter is that they are a key component to a balanced ecosystem, without them things in nature can go awry with unpleasantries for we shameful humans.

Does the recovery plan set a time period after which a population is considered self-sustaining? How does the plan address the possibility of die offs due to severe winters, fires etc. ?

As for the question of who counts the wolves, one answer would be a wildlife manager working in that area. As for the how do they count them, well, there are several different ways and it's a little to hard to explain. The only reason I know about them is from a wildlife/ forestry conservation course that I took, and from what I studied, the results should be accurate.

so cute the 1st time i saw em

The Bambi Syndrome is live and well. The extremes in arguments are apparent, also. We are a part of the food chain (just walk down the grocery store isle). Also, [the woman**] outside Chignik, Alaska last year became part of the food chain after being killed and eaten by a pack. I disagree with the way some make their living by arguing the extremes to play to donors sensitivities (ever present temptation). Get REAL, please. It's tough to make a living all around.

[**Candice Berner, 32, died on March 8, 2010 while jogging near Chignik Lake. Alaska, which is on the Alaska Peninsula. An autopsy revealed that she had been mauled to death by animals. Authorities concluded that Ms. Berner was almost certainly killed by a pack of wolves. Drag marks, the abundance of wolf tracks in the vicinity, and the fact that no other large carnivores were active in the area at the time all pointed to predation by wolves. Ed.]