(This video is by Earthjustice and gives background into their efforts to protect wolves in the Rocky Mountains.)
The Obama administration has lifted protections for gray wolves in a handful of Western states. Soon, it could be hunting season on them once again.
Fifteen years after gray wolves were successfully reintroduced to Yellowstone and a separate expanse of wilderness in central Idaho, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on Monday implemented a decision made previously by the Bush administration to formally remove these wolves from the federal list of endangered species in Montana and Idaho. A coalition of environmental groups led by the green law firm Earthjustice says it intends to seek an injunction in US district court to reverse the delisting decision. They argue it is both premature and grants states, including Idaho and others, a license to start killing large numbers of wolves using hunters and, potentially, aerial sharpshooters. A year ago, when wolves were briefly delisted until environmentalists overturned that decision in court, more than 100 were shot regionwide in a matter of weeks. Some were run down and trampled by snowmobilers in Wyoming who won praise as local folk heroes.
Few wildlife advocates dispute Salazar’s assertion that, with more than 1,645 wolves in the northern Rockies today, their restoration rate is one of the greatest conservation achievements in US history. Except for a few packs that wandered back and forth along the Canadian border, gray wolves were wiped out in the West by the middle of the 20th century. The original goal of a restoration plan written by the Fish and Wildlife Service in 1994 was to have 100 to 150 wolves in each state. Today, there are an estimated 500 wolves in Montana, 850 in Idaho, and 300 in Wyoming. Environmentalists maintain that biological recovery will be complete once the population reaches between 2,000 and 5,000, while ranchers and some state officials insist the current number is already way too high.
In Idaho, Republican governor Butch Otter has endorsed a proposal to halve the state’s wolf population of 88 packs and more than 1,000 individuals (counting new pups born this spring). Otter has said he plans to apply for a wolf-hunting permit so he can be the first Idahoan to fell a wolf. The governor claims that wolves have taken a huge toll on big game animals, namely elk-even though his own fish and game agency noted recently that elk numbers in Idaho are actually meeting or surpassing population objectives in most areas.
Across Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming in 2008, biologists documented that wolves killed 214 cattle, 355 sheep, 28 goats, 21 llamas, 10 horses, and 14 dogs; for perspective, more than 1,200 beef calves and lambs were killed by a prairie blizzard along the Montana-Wyoming state line this past April. To investigate those killings (and destroy 246 offending wolves), federal and state agencies spent a total of $1 million. Livestock owners were paid $500,000 in restitution.
An interesting study was done by Utah State University of the two wolf packs roaming the Agassiz Wildlife Refuge. This is one of first studies of it’s kind to actually document what was going on between wolves and livestock.
Chavez looked at the potential threat of the wolves to livestock in the area, and the perceived threat of the packs to farmers and ranchers.
“The actual threat seemed really low, given that there were only an average of two depredation incidents a year,” says Chavez. “The risk is determined by other factors, such as the availability of wild prey for the wolves.”
Chavez says wolves are reputed to kill for no reason. He says this view is based on myth and legend, instead of research and facts. Chavez says if other food is available, the chances of wolf attacks on livestock diminish. He says the Agassiz Refuge has a plentiful supply of deer.