by Wild Earth Guardians
A coalition of grassroots conservation organizations filed suit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) yesterday for removing gray wolves in Wyoming from the federal threatened and endangered species list. The Service approved the state’s management of wolves in September, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department commenced a wolf hunt less than a month later. At least 54 wolves have been killed by hunters just weeks into the new wolf-hunting season, which commenced Oct. 1.
Wyoming’s “wolf management plan” allows for unregulated wolf killing in over 80 percent of the state. Fewer than 330 wolves live in Wyoming, and many will die this winter as the state intends to allow a minimum of only 100 wolves to survive outside of Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation. The Game and Fish Department will have no way to know when it has reached that threshold, however, because it is impossible to census wolf populations unless each individual wears a radio collar.
So many wolves have been killed already that it prompted the Game Department to close four wolf-hunting zones, and it is poised to close three more zones. One zone in the Jackson Management Unit already exceeded the state’s quota. In mid-November, Wyoming had sold 4,153 resident wolf-hunting licenses at $18 each, and 194, $180 non-resident tags.
“Americans have spent tens of millions to restore and study wolves in the West, but now a tiny anti-wolf minority is handily cutting into their small population in just a few weeks with greater bloodshed on the way as coming snows make it easier to track and hunt wolves,” said Wendy Keefover of WildEarth Guardians.
Wyoming’s wolf plan was written in part to appease the cattle and sheep industry, which has loudly protested about wolf predation on their animals. But their claims of innumerable losses are without merit. Data show that wolves kill less than one percent of cattle and sheep inventories in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
Some hunters also complain that wolves kill too many elk; yet, the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming each host elk populations that exceed management objectives. Wyoming’s elk population is 24 percent over its objective of 85,000 animals. The 2010 count reported 104,000 elk in the state.
“Wyoming’s wolf plan is one of appeasement, answering vociferous, but false claims about wolf predation on elk and livestock,” said Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater.
Wolves did not evolve with hunting and trapping pressures and even low levels of killing by humans harm their populations.
“The full effects of hunting can’t be calculated, as it breaks up families of wolves,” said Priscilla Feral of Friends of Animals. “The death of parents always leaves the young to become disoriented and often abandoned to starve.”
“The future plans of millions of tourists who visit Wyoming for wolf watching will be affected, and this threatens ecotourism, one of the fastest growing industries in the region,” said David Hornoff of the National Wolfwatcher Coalition.
As top carnivores, the presence of wolves in ecosystems creates greater biological diversity, affecting species ranging from beetles to songbirds to grizzly bears.
“Wolves are a natural and important component in a fully-functioning ecosystem,” said Michael Garrity of Alliance for Wild Rockies. “Without wolves, fragile stream habitats are impaired by overabundant elk and this negatively effects numerous species.”
“Wolf recovery is unfinished business until they are present in healthy numbers in all suitable habitats across the American West,” said Kenneth Cole of Western Watersheds Project.
Duane Short of Biodiversity Conservation Alliance said, “Wyoming’s wolf management ‘plan’ regresses to a past era when Wyoming’s valuable wolves were shot-on-sight as part of a deliberate extermination campaign.”
The conservation and animal advocacy groups agree that Wyoming’s wolf population has not been recovered and that it makes no sense—ecologically or economically—to subject the state’s population to hunting and trapping. Further, killing wolves will prevent their recovery in both the Northern Rocky Mountains and into the Southern Rockies, and lead to genetic bottlenecks for remaining small but isolated populations.
“The Wyoming plan is not good for wolves, for the environment, or millions of taxpayers that want to restore more wolves to the landscape,” said Denise Boggs of Conservation Congress.
Jay Tutchton, WildEarth Guardians’ General Counsel, represents the groups.