The U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing to again de-list the wolf within the Northern Rocky Mountain Distinct Population Segment (DPS). De-listing would place the wolf under individual state wildlife management agencies/plans. (For a detailed background, see FWS’ website, www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf, and HUPC LYNX, 10/00 and 2/03.)
A public open house/hearing is being held in SLC, Plaza Hotel, 122 W. South Temple on 28 February 2007. The meeting is broken into two parts: 3-5 PM will be FWS presentations (3PM and 4PM) with questions afterward. The formal hearing will be from 6-8 PM. You can email comments to: WesternGrayWolf@fws.gov. You must include “RIN number 1018-AU53” in the subject line. Or you can mail comments to: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Western Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601.
Back in 2000 FWS initiated a similar action to down-list the wolf from endangered to threatened. That decision was overturned. The Fish and Wildlife Service then embarked on an effort to assure that the states of MT/ID/WY (the states making up most of the DPS; it also includes far eastern Washington and Oregon and a tiny portion of northern-central UT including portions of Cache, Rich, Box Elder, Weber and Morgan Counties) had adequate state wolf management plans in place before proposing to de-list the wolf. Both MT/ID produced plans acceptable to the FWS. WY has continued along a path of demonizing wolves and refused to prepare a plan that offers even the minimal protections the MT/ID plans provided. (The latter plans are largely unacceptable but at least offer minimal protection and propose to maintain 10 breeding pairs and 100 wolves.)
De-listing is being proposed because MT/ID have prepared minimal wolf protection plans and the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population achieved the recovery goal (the goal established when wolves were introduced to Yellowstone NP and central ID in 1995-96) of at least 30 breeding pairs and more than 300 wolves in MT/ID/WY for three consecutive years. In 2002 this goal was achieved, with an estimated 89 breeding pairs and over 1200 wolves in those three states today.
While some wildlife biologists agree with the numerical recovery goals, few agree that the 4-5 years of this goal recovery is enough to assure wolf populations from simply collapsing once de-listed and individual states begin to allow wolf hunting programs— the primary reason for de-listing— as well as extensive predator control along with the normal harassment from snowmobilers and off road vehicles— the sole reason for de-listing.
As a result of this effort dating back to 2000 the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) embarked on preparing a wolf management plan to manage wolves once de-listed. Utah’s plan, something out of a proverbial joke book, envisioned wolf recovery to be met with 2 breeding pairs raising 2 pups each for 2 consecutive years. It also allows livestock interests to kill wolves if they believe wolves are harassing livestock and sets the primary goal of wolf management to have no impact upon big game hunting interests. Literally, the Utah plan envisions a few unattached wolves roaming here and there, always threatened, hemmed in and pursued.
In an interesting twist the FWS proposal would de-list only the wolves living within the DPS. If they survived the gauntlet, those outside of the DPS would remain protected under the Endangered Species Act. In other words, wolves in the Uintas or those lucky enough to get there would be protected. You can bet the hunting community, UDWR, livestock interests—the anti-wolf crowd—will ask FWS to de-list the wolf everywhere, not just the DPS!
So what to say? If you agree that de-listing is not a good thing, then you might want to make these points at the hearing or in a letter to the FWS:
The short time that wolves have met the recovery goal is simply not enough time to determine a population trend or viability. Concerns over disease, productivity (remember in any given pack only a couple of wolves actually produce litters), ecological carrying capacity and available territories outside of the National Parks should require at least a full decade of population data. For example, few wolves have migrated from one population center to another, risking population viability by inbreeding and isolation.
Because wolves are so easily hunted, wolf packs can be disrupted and fragmented, causing dysfunctional behavior. Wolves function as a pack, not as roaming individuals, and are less likely to get into “trouble” when functional packs define behavior.
Not a bit ironic, the Utah wolf management plan focuses on hunting, predator control and minimizing wolf packs both in size and geography. State wildlife agencies have simply not been able to shed their hunting/recreational mentality and replace it with an ecological world view. Big game (elk and deer) recreational hunting still dominates UDWR’s agenda, an almost illiterate agenda deep in the past where wolves are still seen as threats.
There is value other than hunting of wildlife, especially grand predators such as wolves. Until state wildlife agencies can express that value, wolves will be targeted and should not be de-listed.