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.
- 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.).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website, Gray Wolves Delisted in Western Great Lakes Distinct Population Segment. To view, click here.
- 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
- 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
- There are no proposals to delist the red wolf. See the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website Red Wolf Recovery Program by clicking here.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- Wyoming Game and Fish Department website, Wolves in Wyoming. To view, click here.
- The Billings Gazette newspaper, Hunters close in on 2013 Wyoming wolf hunt limit, October 29, 2013, Associated Press. To read, click here.
- Wyoming Game and Fish Department website, Wyoming and U.S. Department of the Interior Wolf Management Agreement Fact Sheet. To read, click here.
- Montana, Fish, Wildlife & Parks website, Wolf Program. To read, click here.
- Idaho Wolf Conservation and Management Plan, 2002, p 4. To read, click here.
- Idaho State Legislature, House Joint Memorial No. 5, First regular session — 2001. Click here to read.
- Idaho State Legislature, House Joint Memorial No. 5, First regular session — 2005. Click here to read.