Last week the Federal Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it was taking the gray wolf off the endangered species list. Under the delisting rule, states will assume legal management authority of wolves in the northern Rockies on March 28, 2008.
In more practical terms this means: let the killing begin. Montana, Idaho and Wyoming will begin hunting wolves in the fall—or, in some cases, perhaps earlier.
In response, eleven conservation groups announced yesterday, the Sierra Club and the Humane Society among them, that they are taking legal action to protect wolves in the northern Rockies. Within hours of the publication of the delisting rule, the groups notified the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that it violated the Endangered Species Act by removing the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population from the list. The groups intend to challenge the Service’s decision in federal court in the hope of overturning the Service’s delisting rule before the hunting ban is lifted and hundreds of wolves are killed.
“Wyoming’s plan classifies wolves as predators in most of the state, where they can be shot on sight without even a hunting license, ” says Derek Goldman, of the Endangered Species Coalition. “Idaho plans on eliminating 85 percent of the wolves in the state through hunting or state eradication programs.”
The approximately 1500 wolves that presently exist in the northern Rockies have had a long and difficult road back from eradication, one that many wolf watchers—myself included—feel that it’s premature and irresponsible to disrupt.
Although the gray wolf was placed on the federal Endangered Species list in 1974, there had been no wolves to protect in the western US since 1925. It wasn’t until 1986 that a biologist named Diane Boyd was able to document the first den of gray wolves found in the western United States since they were systematically eliminated during the forty-year period stretching from the mid-1880′s until the mid-1920′s. Boyd found the mom and seven pups in the upper reaches of Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana. As she attempted to track the elusive group, they seemed to appear and disappear “as if by sorcery,” so Boyd named them the Magic Pack.
Boyd didn’t find the Magic Pack by accident. She’d been looking for wolves ever since a lone female was trapped and radio collared in the park in 1979. Biologists, most specifically Boyd, tracked the female until her radio collar ran out of juice. Boyd then tried—unsuccessfully—to trap the wolf in order to replace the batteries. From time to time in the next few years, she and others would catch site of her. Eventually Boyd noted that the female had attracted suitor, a male wolf that had likely migrated from Canada. Romance occurred and cubs followed. But when the male was accidentally killed in a bear snare, the mom was left to raise her litter alone. Still, the mother and the seven babies constituted an official pack.
The next pack showed up a year later, in 1987, along the North Fork of the Flathead River, along some of Glacier Park’s back roads. An an offshoot of the Magic Pack, Boyd named the new group the Camas Pack.
There were more split offs, and more packs, including the first of the bifurcating groups to migrate out of the park, the Ninemile pack, made famous by naturalist writer Rick Barr.
In 1995, humans helped the wolf reintroduction process along by capturing four packs of wolves in Canada and releasing them in Yellowstone National Park, then did the same with another 17 wolves in northern Idaho.
Now delisting proponents say the wolves have come far enough, that 1500 is too many. Wolf advocates say the population is still far too fragile to delist.
Here’s a quote from the AP article on the subject:
“A lot of the killing may not be taking place just from hunters,” said Michael Robinson with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups that plans to sue. “It’s going to be very systematic killing, with aerial killing and the trapping of wolves to put radio collars on them and then, after they return to their pack, killing the entire pack.”
I’ve been a wolf fan for years, so I’m admittedly not neutral on the subject. I’ve reported on wolves in Glacier Park, tracked radio collared wolves by small open-cockpit plane with a biologist, and in 1995, dragged my then ten-year-old son Will on a late-night wolf-howling expedition in search of the Camas Pack, hiking along the Camas Creek road where the potholes are the size of Humvees, and mosquitoes the size of B-52s. We’d been taught how to howl so the wolves would howl back at us. We were disappointed when whatever wolves were roaming ihe surrounding darkness, completely ignored our sad yowling. Finally, bug-bit and bored we gave up and broke out the Dr. Pepper and the Moosedrool huckleberry beer that I had stashed in a cooler in the trunk of my car. It was only then the Camas wolves began the beautiful and unearthly singing that sounds like nothing else in the world.
And, as regular readers know, there is a quarter-blood wolf-dog (the fabulous Loup-Loup) residing at my house as I type.
Killing creatures like her when there are still so few left…. doesn’t work for me.
UPDATE; In the interest of fairness, commenter Woody rightly suggested that I should have posted an opposing view. (Sometimes being fair is so vexing. But he’s right.) So here’s a link to a very reasoned essay on the subject by Whitney Tilt, former director of conservation for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.