Tag Archives: Wyoming

Delisting the Wolf: My Recommendations

(I’ve added some late postscripts at the end of this post.)

The question before us is whether the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) should remove the gray wolf in the U.S. from the list of endangered species. As we discussed in previous posts, wolves in Alaska, in the Northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment, and in the Western Great Lakes distinct population segment are already off the list. Mexican gray wolves in Arizona and New Mexico and red wolves in North Carolina will continue to be protected.

I concluded in an earlier post that delisting the gray wolf would not affect present wolf populations greatly. Almost all known wolf packs are either already off the list or, in the case of Mexican and red wolves, will continue to be protected regardless. Delisting the gray wolf may prevent new packs from establishing themselves in new areas, because it will be legal to shoot wolves as they travel from established population centers into these new areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is in effect deciding whether to allow wolves to spread naturally or to hinder that spread. Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies representative for the Defenders of Wildlife, an environmental organization, voiced these fears as quoted in a story by Northwest Public Radio:

Stone: “With the federal delisting that they are talking about – pulling federal protections from wolves before there are even wolves on the ground in some of the best wolf habitat in the western United States.”

Stone’s offices are in Idaho, where the wolf population last year was nearly 700. She is concerned that wolf hunting in Idaho and Wyoming will keep them from migrating into neighboring states of Utah and Colorado, or expanding their small populations in Oregon and Washington. Those two Northwest states had a combined population of about 100 wolves.1

Most environmental groups are opposed to delisting, and I respect that. But there is an argument for not fighting delisting. If delisting will not destabilize present wolf populations, and I don’t think it will, then perhaps fighting delisting is not the best use of resources, besides making enemies we don’t need to make. There is also another aspect we need to be concerned about. Despite our disagreements with the Obama Administration, it has been far more sympathetic to environmental concerns than any Republican administration would have been. Why do environmental organizations insist on taking the Administration to court when they could be striving together with the government to reach common goals? Aren’t we frittering away historic opportunities to work with the Federal Government, opportunities that if a Republican president is ever elected are not likely to return for four or maybe eight years, if then?

I think environmental groups should cut a deal with this Administration. They should agree to drop all lawsuits opposing wolf delisting. In return, the Administration should commit itself to the goal of establishing five new major wolf population centers and a total population in the 48 states of 20,000 wolves by 2030 (I’m just suggesting those numbers; maybe there are better ones.). Next, everyone needs to work closely with states to make this happen. I suggest that the Federal Government agree to cede Federal lands to states in return for their cooperation.

Several government agencies must get on board for this happen. Most important are the Fish and Wildife Service and the Department of Agriculture’s APHIS Wildlife Services, responsible for predator control. The White House is essential to provide political backing in what is sure to be a controversial initiative. State governments must be brought into the process (although whether this is possible depends a great deal on local political conditions).

Environmental groups are critical as well — they provide the impetus, the will, the enthusiasm, the energy for all this to happen. They can organize and energize the popular support necessary to move the project forward and provide cover to politicians to get the job done.

We environmentalists must be realistic. We may not be able to get everything we want. But we can accomplish much more working together with the government than we can constantly fighting it in court. With all the legal action being pursued in the past ten years, has a single new wolf population center been established?

(Of course, the Federal Government can give a flat no, in which case my argument goes out the window. If then environmental groups think they can win in court, then perhaps they should continue suing. But they need to perform a careful cost-benefit analysis to avoid wasting their time, resources, and their supporters’ money.)

Where can we establish new wolf population centers? This is the map put out by Defenders of Wildlife that I had published in a previous post2:

Wolf Range North America

Note the red-striped areas on the map in the west and northeast which indicate suitable wolf habitat. Wolves can be introduced to California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Texas, New York, and Maine, and new ranges can be established in Washington State, Oregon, Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico. The most important criteria in choosing new areas is where wolves can make a significant contribution to biodiversity. If introducing wolves will enable more species of animals and plants to thrive, then the initiative is worth doing, otherwise what’s the point? After that, we need to consider the potential for conflict with humans and how we can alleviate such conflict. What’s the human population of the area, how many pets do they have, how much livestock are they raising? Last but not least, we need to consider the amount of political opposition we are likely to encounter, and we are likely to encounter a great deal.

Perhaps the Wyoming model may best alleviate conflicts with humans, despite my criticism of Wyoming in a previous post. Wyoming has zoned the state into wolf habitat and non-wolf habitat. Wolves in wolf habitat can only be killed during hunting season in the fall by licensed hunters, whereas wolves elsewhere may be shot by anyone at anytime3. I assume people know enough not to grow livestock in wolf habitat (and if they do, they must be prepared to accept the consequences), and wolves won’t last long enough to attack livestock in non-wolf habitat. Now we can argue about the propriety of the amount of land set aside for wolves (about 16.5% of the area of the entire state, leaving 83.5% of Wyoming off limits to wolves4), but I think the model can work to bring problems with wolves down to a minimum. At the time of this post, environmental organizations have sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over its delisting of the wolf in Wyoming, demanding that wolves in Wyoming be returned to Federal protection4. Whether Wyoming can successfully manage its wolf population without Federal intervention, only time will tell.

Living in New York State (Brooklyn, actually), I would like to see the wolf return to Adirondacks Park. Adirondacks Park is huge, over 6 million acres, and occupies a good part of northern New York. It is hard to see how there is not enough room in this large area for several wolf packs. Here is a map taken from Wikipedia showing the location of Adirondacks Park with New York State5.

Adirondacks Park

There has been talk of returning the wolf to the Adirondacks before, although not recently. In December 1999, the Adirondack Citizens Advisory Committee released a report on the feasibility of the reintroduction of the wolf to the Adirondacks. The report concluded that although Adirondacks Park could support a wolf population, human development would threaten the wolves’ long term prospects6. I don’t think that’s a good enough reason not to go forward. We need to experiment; the only way we can know if wolves can thrive in the Adirondacks is to try. I suspect that wolves, who as a species have a well-deserved reputation for being tremendously resilient7, will be able to withstand human development and will thrive. (New York State’s constitution does guarantee that the Adirondacks will be forever wild8). In fact, there is an organization called the Northeast Ecological Recovery Society that is dedicated, among other things, to the restoration of the wolf to the Adirondacks. You can read what they have to say about this on their website by clicking here. On there website, be sure to click on their essays “The Missing Piece” and “How Deer Benefit.”

There are two groups who have been most outspoken in their opposition to further wolf recovery, livestock producers and hunters, who resent the loss of wild game to wolves. I can particularly sympathize with individual ranchers who feel anxious and threatened by the presence of wolves (see the video on the oregonwolfeducation.org website by clicking here). These people should have the right to shoot any wolf that threatens their property, including any wolf that strays within 1000 yards of any livestock herd. Furthermore, if wildlife scientists determine that the amount of wild game in a particular area is not large enough to support the resident wolf population and that these wolves will likely turn on livestock as an alternative, government should cull the wolves so that doesn’t happen.

But what I object to is livestock producers having any say in how wilderness areas are managed. Wilderness areas should be managed for the benefit of the natural ecosystem that exists within it and not to protect any narrow human economic interest. To do otherwise is to defeat the whole purpose of having a wilderness. Adding wolves to wilderness areas enhances the ecosystem and brings it closer to the state it was before humans came. If wolves leave the wilderness and cause problems, that will need to be dealt with, but that is no reason not to reintroduce wolves in the first place.

Now for the hunters. I have no public objection to hunting, although I would never do it myself. Furthermore, I have no problem with setting aside lands as hunting preserves, semi-wild places which are managed to maximize numbers of wild game and exclude predators. But true wilderness areas should be kept wild and not managed to please humans. By all means, let people hunt in the wilderness, but they must do it on nature’s terms, not theirs. That means they must learn to compete fairly with natural predators who have as much right to hunt there as they do.

Hunters complain that wolves are decimating elk and deer herds, but that might not be true at all. True, wolves do reduce the elk and deer population, but that’s fine as long as the population remains at sustainable levels (however, if the population can no longer sustain the wolves and the wolves are forced to leave the wilderness to attack livestock, then culling the wolves becomes necessary). In fact, lower elk and deer population numbers can be better for the ecosystem as a whole, as has been shown in Yellowstone9. There is no obligation to keep elk and deer numbers high just to please human hunters.

To illustrate the ludicrousness of killing wolves in wilderness areas just to maximize game animals and please human hunters, I’ll give you a argument in the economic sphere. Microsoft completes with Apple, would it have been OK for Bill Gates to shoot Steven Jobs? Would it be alright for Ford to firebomb General Motors production plants? How about Walmart burning down Target stores?

Of course these are crimes. We even have laws prohibiting practices that are deemed monopolistic or anticompetitive even if they are not violent. Similarly, we should not penalize the wolf for outcompeting humans. If humans want to hunt game, let them outcompete the wolf. Let them learn to track elk and deer and find them before the wolves do. When you hunt in a wilderness area, don’t expect game to be served to you on a silver platter, work for it, just like the wolves do! Hunt, but compete fairly. Do not try to establish species monopolies.

These are only my ideas. Defenders of Wildlife has put together an excellent plan for the recovery of wolves that does a much better job than I have at making the case for wolves, entitled Places for Wolves: A Blueprint for Wolf Restoration and Recovery in the Lower 48 States which you can read by clicking here.

In the meantime, we can continue to learn from the populations of wolves we already have. How do areas with wolves within a state compare with those without wolves — are they really more biologically diverse? Do they appear more ecologically robust and resilient? How well are the states managing their packs? Are they successful in minimizing wolf-human conflicts? Do the humans who live in proximity to the wolves feel comfortable or do they feel threatened? What we learn in states with wolf populations will be invaluable in returning this remarkable keystone species to its rightful place in the American landscape.


Postscripts:

It seems that the Idaho legislature proved more determined than I thought it was to decimate its wolf population. For details, see the post in my opinion blog: Wolves in Idaho.

In the May 2014 issue of Discover Magazine, there is an excellent article by Christie Wilcox, Elk Vanishing Act. Unfortunately, the article is only available online to subscribers. The article describes how biologists have show that wolves are not the main cause of decline of elk in Yellowstone National Park. While they prey on elk, their contribution is rather small. A much larger contribution are grizzlies who are turning to elk when their previous source of protein, cutthroat trout, were out-competed by the illegally introduced lake trout. Also to blame are severe droughts in the park (possibly the result of climate change) which reduced the amount of grass available to the elk. The article cites the work of biologists Scott Creel, Arthur Middleton, Shannon Barber-Meyer, and Jennifer Fortin.


Footnotes:

  1. Northwest Public Radio website, US Fish and Wildlife Propose to Delist Gray Wolf. To view, click here.
  2. Defenders of Wildlife, Places for Wolves: A Blueprint for Restoration and Recovery in the Lower 48 States, 2006, p. 15. To view the document,click here.
  3. Wyoming Game and Fish Department website, Wolves in Wyoming. To view, click here.
  4. Lawsuit filed in United States District Court for the District of Columbia: Defenders of Wildlife et al. vs. Sally Jewall et al. and Safari Club International et al. Plaintiffs’ Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment, p. 9. To view, click here. The 83.5% area not designated as wolf habitat excludes the Seasonal Wolf Trophy Game Management Area (SWTGMA, see footnote no. 3 for an explanation).
  5. Wikipedia, Adirondack Park. To view, click here.
  6. Paquet, Paul C., Strittholt, J.R., Staus, N.L., Wolf Reintroduction Feasibility in the Adirondack Park. Conservation Biology Institute, 1999. To read, click here. The Conservation Biology Institute has a summary of this paper which you can read by clicking here. Defenders of Wildlife also has an excellent discussion on its website which you can read by clicking here.
  7. I base this statement on several observations. First, on a statement on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website Gray Wolf (Canis lupis) Biologue, “Second only to humans in adapting to climate extremes, gray wolves once ranged from coast to coast and from Alaska to Mexico in North America. They were absent from the Southeast, which was occupied by red wolves (Canis rufus), and from the large deserts of the Southwest.” (Click here to read.) Now that’s a huge territory, encompassing many biomes: woodlands, plains, mountains, tundra. This testifies to the wolf’s remarkable adaptability. Second, it took a huge effort on the part of Federal and state governments to eradicate the wolf by the mid-20th century. For an account of the extermination drive against the wolves, see the website of the PBS show Nature, “Wolf Wars: America’s Campaign to Eradicate the Wolf” which you can read by clicking here. Third, wolves have come back quickly in areas where they have reappeared. See the population graph showing the growth of wolf population in the Northern Rockies region here, and the chart showing the growth of the wolf population in the Western Great Lakes region here. Wolves are hard to exterminate and rebound easily.
  8. New York State Constitution, Article XIV, Section 1. To view, click here.
  9. See the article Ecological Benefit of Wolves by the Wyoming chapter of the Sierra Club, which you can read by clicking here, and the video Predators by Bill Ripple which you can view by clicking here.

Delisting the Wolf from the Endangered Species List

The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) began wolf conservation in the 1970’s1, and by the 1990’s numbers of wolves started to increase sharply2. By the year 2000, the FWS proposed delisting the wolf in most of the lower 48 states3 (the wolf was never listed as endangered in Alaska4, and has never inhabited Hawaii5). Environmental groups were strongly opposed6, and by filing suit succeeded in getting the proposal overturned by the courts7. FWS continued to try to delist the wolf for the next decade, until its proposals to delist the wolf in both Western Great Lakes and Northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segments (DPS) stuck in 2011 and has not been overturned8,9.

At the present time, the vast majority of wolves living in the United States are not listed as endangered:

  • Alaskan wolves, the majority of wolves in America, were never considered endangered and were never on the list4.
  • The Western Great Lakes DPS was delisted in January 201210.
  • The Northern Rocky Mountains DPS was delisted in May 2011, except for wolves in Wyoming, which were delisted in September 201211.
  • Mexican gray wolves in the Blue Range Recovery Area will continue to be protected12, as will red wolves in Eastern North Carolina13.

When we are discussing delisting all other wolves in the U.S., we really are talking about very few individuals. To my knowledge, there are no documented packs living in the wild outside of the main population segments14. Delisting all wolves in the U.S. might hinder them from spreading out from the main population centers (because they could be shot on sight) and establishing new packs in new habitats. However, existing wolf packs, having already been delisted, would continue intact, unless the states that host them gave carte blanche to hunters to eradicate them. While that is theoretically possible, that would violate the Memoranda of Agreement signed between the FWS and several states15. The FWS has stated its intention that should it believe that the gray wolf population was again in jeopardy, it would once again place the population under protection16. If this is the case, the question becomes: do we want wolves to spread naturally to other areas, or do we want them confined to the regions they currently inhabit?

Wolves engender visceral feelings on both sides of the issue. They are beloved by environmentalists, ecologists, animal rights activists, and wildlife lovers, but feared and hated by ranchers, cattlemen, livestock farmers, hunters who don’t like competing with wolves, many pet owners, and folks who don’t realize that wolves do not hunt humans17. There are people out there who really don’t like wolves, and they are pushing for protections to be removed. On top of that are all the people who hate government regulation and federal meddling in local affairs. Those who want wolves to play more prominent roles in the American landscape may face fierce opposition. We need to decide if fighting delisting is really a good use of resources or if we can advocate for wolves in a more effective way. More on that in my next post.

But I can understand why environmentalists do not want wolves to have to rely on the tender mercies of state governments. Take Wyoming, for instance. In Wyoming, wolves are classified two ways. Wolves who live near Yellowstone in the northwest corner of the state are designated as “trophy animals” and can be shot during hunting season by licensed hunters up to a certain quota. Wolves unlucky to find themselves in the rest of the state are designated “predatory animals” [well, what else are they?] and can be shot at any time by anybody. In other words, wolves are defined by how they can be legally shot by people, not by their place in nature, nor by the ecological services they provide18. Please don’t get me wrong. Killing wolves is an essential part of managing a wolf population that is outgrowing its habitat. It’s the attitude I don’t like.

But perhaps I’m being too harsh on Wyoming. For the 2013 hunting season, Wyoming cut its wolf quota in half from 52 to 26 animals in order to stabilize the population at 160 wolves19. Wyoming had agreed with the FWS to keep a minimum of 100 animals20, so perhaps Wyoming is proving responsible in its practices after all. If so, all power to them.

Montana is another state I wonder about. On the website of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP), there is also no mention of the wolf’s ecological role. Rather, department aims are stated clearly21:

The focus will be on ensuring that Montana’s conservation and management program keeps the wolf off the federal endangered species list while pursuing a wolf population level below current numbers to manage impacts on game populations and livestock.

In other words, Montana is less concerned with maintaining healthy ecosystems than with keeping the federal government off its back and minimizing losses to the animals we raise and hunt. Apparently, the federal government is needed to keep Montana honest. One wonders, though, what will happen if a Conservative Republican becomes president. Will Montana cavalierly cast aside its new-found responsibility towards wolves?

Idaho is a little better. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game website shows a little more respect for wolves than Wyoming and Montana. This is the first paragraph of the Idaho Wolf Conservation and Management Plan under the Executive Summary heading22:

The goal of this conservation and management plan is to ensure the long-term survival of wolves in Idaho while minimizing wolf-human conflicts that result when wolves and people live in the same vicinity. Conservation of wolves requires management. Management for wolves means ensuring adequate numbers for long-term persistence of the species as well as ensuring that landowners, land managers, other citizens, and their property are protected. The Idaho Constitution, Article 1, Section 1, states: “All men are by nature free and equal, and have certain inalienable rights, among which are enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing and protecting property; pursuing happiness and securing safety.” The Governor’s Office of Species Conservation shall begin immediate discussions with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to define how the rights guaranteed by Article 1, Section 1, will be preserved and recognized. Without management, conservation is overcome by conflict. The State of Idaho is on the record asking the federal government to remove wolves from the state by the adoption in 2001 of House Joint Memorial No. 5. The position reflected in House Joint Memorial No. 5 continues to be the official position of the State of Idaho. However, in order to use every available option to mitigate the severe impacts on the residents of the State of Idaho, the state will seek delisting and manage wolves at recovery levels that will ensure viable, self-sustaining populations.

House Joint Memorial No. 5 refers to a resolution passed by the Idaho state legislature in 200123 and revised in 200524. I found the original version rather petulant, but the revised version is considerably more balanced. Still, the 2005 version shows a state government representing a constituency that is very wary of wolves and suspicious of Federal power. Nevertheless, if the Idaho Fish and Game Department can continue its work without interference, Idaho’s wolves should do well.

In my next post, I’ll discuss my own recommendations regarding wolf conservation.


Footnotes:

  1. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Origins of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “1973 — The Endangered Species Act is passed by Congress to protect endangered plants and animals. Building upon legislation passed in 1966 and 1969, the new law expands and strengthens efforts to protect species domestically and internationally. The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service assume responsibility for administering the Act.” To view, click here. Four subspecies of wolves were included in the new Endangered Species Act in 1974 (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website, Canis lupus Gray Wolf. To view, click here.).
  2. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolf (Canis Lupus): Wolf Numbers in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan (Excluding Isle Royale) 1976 to 2003. To view, click here. U.S. Fish and Wildlife service website, Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains: News, Information, and Rocovery Status Reports, Figure 3 (graph), center column. To view, click here.
  3. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website,Archive of Previous Federal Actions Affecting Gray Wolf ESA Status: July 13, 2000 Proposal to Reclassify/Delist the Gray Wolf in the Lower 48 States. To view, click here.
  4. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Wolf Recovery Under the Endangered Species Act, p. 2, section “Wolves in Alaska and Canada.” To view, click here.
  5. I came to this conclusion through deduction, although I did find a website page I believe once belonged to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources but is now obsolete, entitled Are there bears or wolves in Hawaii? To view, click here.
  6. According to a Sierra Club press release, the Sierra Club joined 18 other environmental organizations in a lawsuit filed in Federal court in Oregon opposing the delisting (click here to view. Regarding the lawsuit, see next note.). A lawyer friend I have was kind enough to obtain the docket information which lists 17 plaintiffs (unfortunately, the docket is only available on a secure website that requires a password). In alphabetical order they are:American Lands Alliance, Animal Protection Institute, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Forest Watch, Hells Canyon Preservation Council, Help Our Wolves Live, Humane Society of the United States, Klamath Forest Alliance, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Minnesota Wolf Alliance, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, RESTORE the North Woods, Sierra Club, Sinapu, and Wildlands Project.
  7. U.S. District Court, District of Oregon. Defenders of Wildlife; et al. v. Secretary, United States Department of the Interior; et al., civil no. 03-1348-JO. Click here to read. U.S. District Court, District of Vermont. National Wildlife Federation, Vermont Natural Resources Council, Maine Wolf Coalition, Environmental Advocates of New York, and Maine Audubon Society v. Gale Norton, Secretary of the Interior, United States Department of the Interior, and Steven Williams, Director, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, File no. 1:03-CV-340. Click here to read.
  8. Regarding wolves in the Western Great Lakes region, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolves Delisted in Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment. To view, click here. The delisting was challenged by civil action no. 13-00186 filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, The Humane Society of the United States, Born Free USA, Help Our Wolves Live, and Friends of Animals and Their Environment v. Kenneth Salazar, Secretary of the Interior, United States Department of the Interior, and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, but to my knowledge has not yet been ruled on. To view the complaint, click here.
  9. On April 2, 2009, the FWS issued a rule delisting wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segment. It was set aside in two lawsuits filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana (CV 09-77-M-DWM and CV 09-82-M-DWM. To read them, click here.). As reported on the website of the newspaper Missoulian in an article entitled Feds, wildlife groups, agree to delist Montana wolves by Rob Chaney (click here to read), the Federal Government negotiated an agreement with many (but not all) environmental groups in 2011 to delist Northern Rocky Mountain wolves, and FWS was able to reissue the rule. For the FWS version of events, see the Federal Government’s regulations.gov website, Identification of Northern Rocky Mountain Population of Gray Wolf as Distinct Population Segment (to view, click here). Environmental groups dissatisfied with the agreement tried to overturn it with two more Federal lawsuits filed in Montana (11-70-M-DWM and 11-71-M-DWM, which you can read by clicking here), but they were not successful, and the defeat was upheld on appeal (to read, click here).
  10. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolves Delisted in Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment. To view, click here.
  11. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains: News, Information, and Recovery Status Reports, section “Recent Actions:”, center column, May 2011 and August 2012 (Wyoming). To view, click here
  12. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains: News, Information, and Recovery Status Reports, section “Recent Actions:”, center column, June 2013. To view, click here
  13. There are no proposals to delist the red wolf. See the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website Red Wolf Recovery Program by clicking here.
  14. This is my conclusion after searching for literature on wolf packs in the U.S. outside the main population centers and not finding any. Please correct me if you have information to the contrary.
  15. As listed on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains: News, Information, and Recovery Status Reports, section “Memorandums of Agreement” (click here to view). With Montana: Cooperative Agreement between U.S. FIsh and Wildlife Service, Region 6, and Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife & Parks (to view, click here). With Idaho: Memorandum of Agreement Between the Secretary of the Interior and the State of Idaho (to view, click here). With Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming: Memorandum of Understanding: Protection of Genetic Diversity of Northern Rocky Mountains Gray Wolves (to view, click here).
  16. Statement on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains: News, Information, and Recovery Status Reports, center column: “The Service and our partners will monitor wolves in the region for at least 5 years to ensure that the population’s recovered status is not compromised, and if relisting is ever warranted, we will make prompt use of the Act’s emergency listing provisions.” Click here to view.
  17. See these websites that support the delisting of wolves. National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, NCBA, PLC, Call for Full Delisting of Wolves Nationwide (to view, click here). OregonWolfEducation.org (property owners’ website. Their video is particularly good. To view, click here.). Big Game Forever (hunters’ website. See their wolf video on the bottom of the page. To view, click here.). Save Elk (hunters’ website. To view, click here.). Lobo Watch (hunters’ website. See their page on wolf reintroductions. To view, click here). The American Sheep Industry Association hasn’t come out in favor of delisting on its website, but it does support the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services agency, which engages in predator control, and it does carry a news story about wolf predation of sheep in Idaho, which indicates that it is concerned about wolf predation. Click here to view.
  18. Wyoming Game and Fish Department website, Wolves in Wyoming. To view, click here.
  19. The Billings Gazette newspaper, Hunters close in on 2013 Wyoming wolf hunt limit, October 29, 2013, Associated Press. To read, click here.
  20. Wyoming Game and Fish Department website, Wyoming and U.S. Department of the Interior Wolf Management Agreement Fact Sheet. To read, click here.
  21. Montana, Fish, Wildlife & Parks website, Wolf Program. To read, click here.
  22. Idaho Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, 2002, p 4. To read, click here.
  23. Idaho State Legislature, House Joint Memorial No. 5, First regular session — 2001. Click here to read.
  24. Idaho State Legislature, House Joint Memorial No. 5, First regular session — 2005. Click here to read.

A Short History of Wolves in America

The question before us is: should wolves in the United States be taken off the Endangered Species List? To analyze this question, we need to review the history of wolves in America.

The number of wolves living in North America before the arrival of Europeans is estimated at 400,000 animals1. As white Americans and their livestock migrated westward in the 19th century, they came in conflict with wolves. Various states offered bounties for dead wolves, and the U.S. Government waged its own campaign against wolves beginning in 19142. Wolves were gone from western states by the 1930’s and from Wisconsin and Michigan by the mid-1960’s3. By that time, the only wolves remaining in the lower 48 states resided in Minnesota3.

With the rise of the conservation and environmental movements in the U.S. in the 1960’s, attitudes towards the wolf began to change. After passage of the Endangered Species Preservation Act (1966), eastern wolves (Canis lupus lycaon) and red wolves (Canis rufus) were listed as endangered in 19674. With the Endangered Species Act passing in 1973, four subspecies of wolves were granted protection in 1974)3. The entire species of gray wolf was granted protection in 1978, designated as endangered, except in Minnesota where the species was designated as threatened3.

Once they fell under Federal protection, wolves could no longer be killed at whim, and they began to infiltrate into northern United States from Canada5. As far as I can tell, the vast majority of wolves are concentrated in northern states6. While sightings of lone wolves have been reported in many states, a wolf population can not be considered established in a particular area until the presence of at least one pack has been documented. To my knowledge, as of October 2013 there are very few documented packs living in the wild south of 42° latitude, except for red wolves and Mexican gray wolves7.

The vast majority of wolves in the U.S. are concentrated in five regions. These areas are 8 (followed by best estimates of population):

  • Alaska 7,700 to 11,200
  • Western Great Lakes 3,686
  • Northern Rocky Mountains 1,674
  • Southwest (Mexican wolves in the Blue Range Recovery Area) 75
  • North Carolina (Red wolves in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge) 100

In particular, the wolves in the Western Great Lakes region and the wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains region are designated distinct population segments (DPS) by the Fish and Wildlife Service9.

The following map from Defenders of Wildlife shows the range of wolves in the North American continent, past and present10. The map is shaded as follows:

  • Dark greening shading is where gray wolves live currently.
  • Light green shading is where gray wolves have lived in the past.
  • Red shading is where red wolves live currently (North Carolina).
  • Red-spotted shading is where red wolves have lived in the past.
  • Red-striped areas are currently suitable wolf habitat where wolves do not live now but could migrate there.

Here is the map:

Wolf Range North America

Wolves have always lived in Alaska and Canada and were never endangered11. Once protection was afforded to wolves in the lower 48 states (wolves never lived in Hawaii12), they started to cross the northern U.S. border from Canada5. Wolves were never completely eradicated from northern Minnesota13, and as their numbers recovered they gradually spread to Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan14 to found the Western Great Lakes DPS. Below is a map showing their current range in the Western Great Lakes region15:

Western Great Lakes Map 2

Wolves moving into Montana’s National Glacier Park formed the Northern Rocky Mountains DPS. They were joined by wolves that were captured in Canada and released in Yellowstone National Park (31 wolves) and central Idaho (35 wolves) in 1995 and 199616. Here is a map showing wolf packs in the northern Rocky Mountain region17:

Northern Rocky Mountain Map

Notice that this region has actually two centers of population: the area straddling the Idaho-Montana border, and a second area centered on Yellowstone Park. There are packs between these two areas, but they are much less concentrated.

I thought it might be instructive if I also showed maps of Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. First, a map of Wyoming. Wyoming has four important areas18:

  • The extreme northwest corner of the state is Yellowstone National Park, where hunting is not allowed.
  • The area surrounding the park (outlined in the map in green) is the Trophy Game Management Area, where wolves can be hunted by licensed hunters during a designated season (October 1 through December 31) up to an area-wide quota.
  • A small area south of the park called the Seasonal Wolf Trophy Game Management Area (outlined in the map in red), where hunting in the area is divided into three periods:
  • January 1 through last day in February. No hunting allowed.
  • March 1 through October 14. Wolves can be killed by anybody at anytime without limit.
  • October 15 through December 31. Hunting by licensed hunters only up to an area-wide quota.
  • The rest of the state, where wolves can be killed by anybody at anytime without limit.

Here is the map. The area bordered in green is the trophy area. The area bordered in red is the seasonal trophy area18:

Wolves in Wyoming

Here is a map of wolves in Montana19, most of which are in the western third of the state:

Wolves in Montana

Here is a map of wolves in Idaho20, whose activity takes up most of the northern two-thirds of the state:

Wolves in Idaho

The Mexican gray wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) was nearly exterminated from its range in the southwestern U.S. by the 1970’s. In 1998, wolves were released into the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area (BRWRA) as a nonessential experimental population21, that is, a population of animals reintroduced into the area whose survival is not essential to the survival of the species as a whole. The nonessential experimental designation relaxes some of the burdens that the Endangered Species Act places on nearby landowners in the hope of reducing opposition to the reintroduction22. The following map shows the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area surrounded by the much larger Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area23:

Mexican Wolf Recovery Area

Red wolves (Canis rufus) are a separate species with an historical range that included all of the southeast U.S., going as far north as Pennsylvania and the Ohio river valley and as far west as Texas24. Red wolves were extinct from the wild by 1970, except for a small population that was discovered near the Gulf coast straddling the Texas-Louisiana border. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured as many animals from this population as it could, and selected 14 individuals for a captive breeding program25. In 1987, descendents of these animals were released into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR)in eastern North Carolina near the Outer Banks26. Most red wolves in the wild currently reside in or near the ARNWR, as shown in this map from the Fish and Wildlife Service27:

Wolves in NC

In the past few years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has moved to delist wolves from endangered status28. The Northern Rocky Mountain DPS (except in Wyoming) was delisted in May 201129, the Western Great Lakes DPS was delisted in December 201130, and wolves in Wyoming were delisted in August 201229. Mexican wolves in the Blue Range Recovery Area and red wolves remain under protection with no plans to change their status. All other wolves in the contiguous U.S. remain under protection, but in June 2013, the FWS announced its intention to remove this protection31, and it is this announcement which is the source of the controversy we now considering.

In place of Federal protection, the FWS has signed Memoranda of Agreement with Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming32. All these states33 and Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah34, Minnesota, Michigan, and Wisconsin35 have state wolf management plans to conserve their wolf populations while minimizing conflicts with humans.

The following map from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows current endangered species status across the states36:

US Wolf Map

In my next post, I will discuss the delisting of the wolf from Endangered Species List.

Footnotes

  1. Defenders of Wildlife, Places for Wolves: A Blueprint for Restoration and Recovery in the Lower 48 States, 2006, p. 6. To view the document, click here.
  2. International Wolf Center website, Gray Wolf Time Line for the Contiguous United States. To view, click here.
  3. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website, Canis lupus Gray Wolf. To view, click here.
  4. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, First Species Listed as Endangered. To view, click here. Note that the scientific name for the red wolf is given as Canis niger rather than Canis rufus.
  5. Mission: Wolf, A History of Wild Wolves in the United States. To view, click here. Montana Fish, Wildlife, & Parks website, Gray Wolf History. To view, click here.
  6. See map below.
  7. I came to this conclusion after examining several states, such as California, that have suitable wolf habitat but no record of resident wolf packs. I am open to correction on this point.
  8. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolf (Canis lupis) Current Population in the United States. To view, click here.
  9. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Species Profile: Gray Wolf (Canis lupis). To view, click here.
  10. Defenders of Wildlife, Places for Wolves: A Blueprint for Restoration and Recovery in the Lower 48 States, 2006, p. 15. To view the document,click here.
  11. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Wolf Recovery Under the Endangered Species Act, p. 2. To view, click here.
  12. I came to this conclusion through deduction, although I did find a website page I believe once belonged to the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources but is now obsolete, entitled Are there bears or wolves in Hawaii? To view, click here.
  13. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolf Recovery in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. To view, click here. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website, Canis lupus Gray Wolf. To view, click here.
  14. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolf Recovery in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan. To view, click here.
  15. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolf — Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment. To view, click here.
  16. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks website, Gray Wolf History. To view, click here. There is an excellent video on scientific research of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, entitled NATURE | The Wolf That Changed America | Wolf Expert | PBS which you can view by clicking here.
  17. U.S. Fish and Wildlife website, Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains: News, Information and Recovery Status Reports. To view, click here.
  18. Wyoming Game & Fish Department website, Wolves in Wyoming. To view, click here.
  19. State of Montana website, Montana Field Guide: Gray Wolf — Canis Lupus. To view, click here.
  20. Idaho Fish and Game Department, 2012 Idaho Wolf Monitoring Progress Report, p. 12. To view, click here.
  21. U.S. Fish and Wildlife website, Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program History. To view, click here.
  22. U.S. Fish and Wildlife website, Topeka Shiner Reintroduction in Missouri; Designation of Non-Essential, Experimental Population: Questions and Answers. To view, click here. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species Act: Experimental Populations. To view, click here.
  23. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Mexican Wolf Experimental Population Area (map showing 10(j) boundary). To view, click here.
  24. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Red Wolves, p. 3. To view, click here. It is interesting that FWS shows a map of the red wolf’s historical range that plots it as far north as Massachusetts, southern New York, most of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana, and half of Illinois and Missouri. Click here to view. Indeed, a serious claim that red wolves inhabited the Adirondacks area in Northern New York State was made in an Adirondack Citizen Advisory Committee report on the possible reintroduction of wolves into Adirondack Park, as reported on the Defenders of Wildlife website, Wolves in the Adirondacks?, which you can view by clicking here.
  25. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Red Wolves, p. 1. To view, click here.
  26. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Red Wolves, pp. 2, 6–7 To view, click here. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Recovery Timeline. To view, click here.
  27. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Red Wolf Recovery Efforts. To view, click here. There is a fascinating discussion in Wikipedia on the controversy whether the red wolf is a true species or is merely a hybrid of gray wolves and coyotes, which you can view by clicking here and scrolling down to the section “Taxonomy.”
  28. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Species Profile: Gray Wolf (Canis lupis), section “Current Listing Status Summary” and further to the end of the page. To view, click here.
  29. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains: News, Information, and Recovery Status Reports, section “Recent Actions:”. To view, click here.
  30. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website,Gray Wolves in the Western Great Lakes States, section “Chronology of Federal Actions Affecting Gray Wolf ESA Status in the Western Great Lakes States.” To view, click here.
  31. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website,Gray Wolves in the Western Great Lakes States, section “June 7, 2013 Announcement.” To view,click here. There is no indication anywhere on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website that the red wolf is proposed for delisting.
  32. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains: News, Information, and Recovery Status Reports, section “Wolf Management Memorandums of Agreement”. To view, click here.
  33. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains: News, Information, and Recovery Status Reports, section “State Wolf Management in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming”. To view, click here.
  34. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains: News, Information, and Recovery Status Reports, section “Other State and Tribal Wolf Management”. To view, click here.
  35. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website,Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan State Management Plans. To view, click here.
  36. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolf – Western Great Lakes Region: Status under the Endangered Species Act. To view, click here.