For the First Time in 36 Years, Rocky Mountain Wolves Are in the Crosshairs Again

By Eliza Strickland | September 1, 2009 3:03 pm

wolfThis morning hunters in Idaho donned reflective vests and picked up rifles, and set off to track and kill an animal that has been off-limits for more than three decades: the gray wolf. While environmental groups were in court yesterday asking federal judge Donald Molloy to stop the hunt, the judge declared that he needs time to determine whether wolves should be protected from the rifles and returned to the endangered species list. While Molloy considers, the hunt will go on. As of midday Monday, more than 10,000 Idaho hunters had bought licenses allowing them to vie for a wolf trophy.

In March, the Obama administration affirmed a decision by the Bush administration to remove gray wolves from the endangered list, where they had been protected for more than 30 years…. Federal and state wildlife officials say multiple studies have established that the wolf population is healthy and growing and that the management programs put in place by Idaho and Montana will keep the animal from becoming endangered again [The New York Times]. There are now about 1,600 wolves in the Northern Rockies region, but last year Judge Molloy still stopped the wolf hunt planned for Idaho. He has given no indication of how he will rule this year.

About 850 wolves are thought to live in Idaho; of those, up to 220 can be killed in this year’s hunt. An additional hunt in Montana scheduled to begin on September 15 may kill up to 75 wolves, and members of the Nez Perce tribe can kill up to 35 animals. The coalition of 13 wildlife conservation groups who sued to stop the hunts has argued that allowing them to go forward could threaten the wolves’ survival by eliminating key connecting corridors among the various populations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming [Los Angeles Times]. The lawsuit argues that without crossbreeding between the populations, the wolves’ limited genetic diversity will put them at risk of diseases and other health problems, reducing their chances for long-term survival.

The situation in the Northern Rockies highlights the difficulties that can come to pass when endangered predators are successfully brought back from the brink of extinction. As the wolf population has rebounded, sheep and cattle ranchers have complained about attacks on their livestock, while deer and elk hunters have argued that the wolves are depleting their game.

But to conservationists who take pride in the successful reintroduction of the gray wolf (the species was nearly wiped out in the contiguous United States before it was added to the endangered species list in 1973), it makes no sense to begin hunting wolves as soon as the population becomes somewhat stable. According to some wolf advocates, the argument that hunters are “responsibly managing” the wolf population holds little water. Instead, they say that the eagerness to hunt displayed by the Idaho and Montana state governments is a reminder that what we are really doing when we protect endangered and threatened species is managing our own species…. Unfortunately, very little has been done to change the behavior of humans — who drove wolves to the brink of extinction [The New York Times].

Related Content:
80beats: Are Wolves Interbreeding Themselves to Extinction?
80beats: Is the Whaling Ban Really the Best Way to Save the Whales?
DISCOVER: Return of the Wolves
DISCOVER: Wilding America calls for connecting chunks of wilderness to protect big predators.

Image: flickr / ToddBlm

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Feature, Living World
  • TLM

    If you want to save wolves, then get your state to adopt a pack. Idaho Fish & Game offered to trap and transport wolves to other states, and none of them took the offer. So before you decry what is going on in Idaho, ask why your state didn’t take the our wolves.

    Wolves belong in the wilderness, but not in our towns!

  • robot makes music

    Hooray! There’s 1,600 of them! Now, let’s kill off a fifth of them every year. What could possibly go wrong?

  • bigjohn756

    I don’t know why anyone would want to shoot a wolf. You wouldn’t want to eat one…well, I wouldn’t. Perhaps, they are desirable as a trophy. If there were a lot of them, maybe it would be good to thin them out so that they wouldn’t become a nuisance. Not being knowledgeable in animal management I can’t say what ‘a lot of them’ is, but, 1600 doesn’t seem like very many. I like the idea of spreading them out to give them the greatest opportunity for diversity. Perhaps, someday, wolves could be everyplace they used to be and their numbers could be regulated by hunting to keep them from becoming a nuisance. That way the hunters could have their trophies, the government could be in control, and the sheep would be safe.

  • Scott

    The whole thing about deer and elk hunters having less to hunt is actually the exact opposite. Wolves cull the sick and the weak and in doing so, strengthen the deer and elk population’s gene pool. I think the real problem is that there have been so many deer and elk that hunters are getting lazy and don’t really want to work for their kill.

    Once deer and elk and other food sources are reduced by natural predation by the wolves, the wolf population will also naturally stabilize. But it’s still going to take time. Let the gov still pay for those very few livestock animals that get taken by wolves and teach the ranchers to use natural deterrents to keep wolves away.

    For once, let nature take it’s better course. Humans have repeatedly proven we aren’t able to control what millions of years of evolution can do naturally.

  • Brian

    Am I the only one who thinks that a 25+% hunting rate, as in “About 850 wolves are thought to live in Idaho; of those, up to 220 can be killed…” seems awfully high?

    There’s a potential problem too. Once hunting is legal you have to distinguish between a legal and an illegal kill. When the ban is in place it’s easy–all wolf kills are illegal, except perhaps in self-defense. Sure you have the tags but it’s just more work to make the distinction.

    My point is that the legal hunt may increase the illegal hunt too.

  • jimbo73

    this state is full of god fearing , gun toting idiots who think it’s their god given “right” to shoot these amazing survivors. if only they could grow opposable thumbs and start shooting back , they might stand a chance. i love idaho but i’m so embarrased to breathe the same air as all these ignoramsis’.

  • Richard W. Crews

    I think that wildlife conservation organizations should offer to pay top dollar for every livestock proved to be killed by wolves. Protection of the herd will keep the wolves wary. This will eliminate the economic beef (pun intended) that is one rationale for killing them. It should be easy to come up with a couple hundred per cow , even many times a year.

    How does a hunt stop at a certain point? Does every hunter have to report success immediately? Then there’s some sort of , … what? email? to the woods? Radio everyone MUST tune to? How do they sell thousands of licenses and limit the kill to 200?

  • will sandstrom

    The NE MN Superior Nat’l Forest did/does not have habitat for deer, and some winters had/have 5 foot snow depths and 40 below zero temps. Yet when people could keep, without any government hindrance/interference, wolf numbers very low between 1900-1973, deer density was 36/sq.mi. With lots of deer/game families could take their children into wilderness to teach them how to hunt and use a gun. Increasing the predator and raptor numbers is a plan by certain ELITE people to act to have large populations of predators and raptors decrease edible game populations. And when there are low populations of edible game there is less reason for families to hunt; far more families hunt for edible game such as deer and elk than hunt for wolves. And when the current and next generation of people do not hunt for edible game, then it will be much easier for the ELITE to get guns removed from people’s homes. For with little edible game to hunt there is less reason for people to want unregistered guns: It helps easy removal of guns. This can more easily lead to PEOPLE CONTROL as happened in Russia. Dr. Will

  • Will

    There are 83,557 square miles in Idaho with an est population of 1,429,096 people.

    850 Wolves are having that much impact on your state that you need to cull 220 of them? That is ridiculous and lazy. Relocate them in your own state.

  • chuck

    This is just plain wrong. Keep it simple people. There is simply not enough wolves to sustain a hunting season. The problem is not too many wolves. The problem is too many people. If the “elite” in charge don’t come to grips with the “people problem” than we will continue on the path to our doom.

  • http://TwoSistersArtandSoul Lisette Root

    Seems like a pretty crappy way to treat “mans best friend”. Not to mention that they are loving, intelligent, wonderful, and much better than most humans I have ever met. What’s next, cats? dogs?fat people? After all, fat people eat much more than their fair share, right?

  • Cheryl

    I live in Montana where I have hunted and fished my whole life and log many thousands of hours in the field. I am a true wolf lover and enjoy seeing them in their natural environment. I have seen the damage wolves do though. They no longer have any fear of humans and are killing healthy animals for fun. Humans get to take and eat one elk per person per year, all meat must be taken and used or it is a punishable crime. Just this year alone I have been bow hunting and seen 10 live elk, 2 fully eaten ones, 7 that didn’t even get a couple of pounds taken off of them, and too many deer to want to mention. It’s time to start checking their numbers cause there are way more wolves than they “guess” there is. How could they even get an accurate number any way, wolves are usually in the thickest timber they can find cause that’s where the elk try to hide.

  • Katie Scott

    I have never seen a wolf, but truthfully i wish to run with them. despite the stupid accusations of wolves being horrible creatures who kill for fun, they are plenty more good than people believe them to be. More wolf mothers are better than more than half of the human mother populations. They eat livestock because humans kill elk the same reason they kill wolves. trophies. Wolves need to protected not destoryed.


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