Don’t Forsake the Gray Wolf
by Jim Dutcher
KETCHUM, Idaho - IT has been celebrated as one of the great victories of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. After several decades of federal protection, gray wolves — once nearly wiped out in the continental United States — have reached a population of roughly 6,100 across three Great Lakes states and seven Western states.
But this success has been only partial. The centuries-old war against wolves continues to rage, particularly in states where the species has lost federal protection in recent years, as management of wolf populations was turned over to the states.
On Friday, the federal Fish and Wildlife Service put forward a proposal that would make matters even worse. It proposed stripping the remaining federal protections for the gray wolf in the rest of the United States (with the exception of the extremely rare Mexican gray wolf in Arizona and New Mexico). Removing gray wolves from the national endangered species list in the areas where they are still protected would be a mistake. The protections should remain, so that the species can continue its recovery and expand its range, just as the bald eagle and the alligator were allowed to do.
The new proposal, which will be open for a 90-day public comment period, is the latest step in the federal government’s effort to turn wolf management entirely over to the states and wash its hands of the animal, which has long been in the cross hairs of powerful hunting and livestock interests.
Wolves are already under state rather than federal control in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana, which are home to about 97 percent of the gray wolves in the lower 48 states. Wolf management in those states is often driven by politics, and wolves are being killed at alarming rates in the name of sport in all but Michigan.
For instance, most of the nearly 1,700 wolves surviving in the West lived in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming at the end of 2012. Those states now have recreational hunting and trapping seasons, and in the past two years, nearly 1,200 wolves have been killed. Nearly 400 more were killed for attacking livestock.
Photo by Bob Haarmans