Legalized wolf-killing to resume in Idaho, Montana

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By Mary Katherine Ray, Chapter Wildlife Chair

Opposition to wolves has escalated and now includes not only livestock interests but the hunting and outfitting lobby. These hunters erroneously believe that the integrity of wild places once inhabited by wolves can be maintained in their absence.

When Ken Salazar became Secretary of the Interior, he de-listed from Federal protection gray wolves in Montana and Idaho. Wyoming wolves have maintained their protections all along because that state refuses anything but a shoot-on-sight policy. “Hunting” seasons opened in the other two in 2009, and before the gunsmoke cleared, a third of the wolf populations there had been snuffed out. More than 500 wolves perished.

The Sierra Club entered litigation along with other groups to ask that wolf protections be reinstated, and in August last year, a judge complied. However, in a disheartening reversal, on March 18, the Sierra Club along with nine other environmental groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Natural Resources Defense Council, asked the court to let de-listing proceed.

The decision came from the national level of the Club and not the chapters. The deal is meant to assuage politicians of both parties and stop them from pressing for legislation to remove endangered-species protection from wolves. Whether this gamble will produce this result remains to be seen.

The deal also calls for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to re-examine whether the original plan for only 300 wolves in the Northern Rockies is sufficient for recovery. More recent science suggests that that number is woefully inadequate. The science also suggests that killing even one member of a pack can be so disruptive to the highly developed social order that the entire pack can disintegrate. Sadly, game agencies more used to providing for the culling of herbivores have never taken this fact of wolf life into account.

Wolves in New Mexico are not involved in this de-listing. (They could be if some of the proposed bills move forward.) De-listing as a result of this legal settlement will only apply to wolves in Montana and Idaho. But we already know what wolf “management” in these states looks like. This fall, the killing fields there will run with wolf blood again. Whether the political landscape that has backed wolves into this indefensible corner will prove to be only a check or a checkmate against their very survival is not known.