June 1, 2008
On March 28, 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf from the federal list of endangered species. The decision was previously announced in February. At the time, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett said there were more than 1,500 wolves and at least 100 breeding pairs in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. Wolf populations, said the USFWS, have exceeded biological recovery goals and are now thriving.
Long viewed as a threat to commercial livestock, the gray wolf was eradicated from Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and southwestern Canada by the 1930s and re-introduced in 1995. Ecologists believe the removal of wolves from their native range has adversely affected ecosystems by removing an important predator.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the delisting of the gray wolf from the endangered species list will strip wolves of federal protections throughout all of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana and portions of Utah, Oregon and Washington. Once a species is delisted, management falls to the appropriate state or tribe. Officials from both Idaho and Wyoming, the CBD said, intend to dramatically increase the numbers of wolves that are shot and killed.
Over 85 percent of the area where wolves are officially “recovered” has no wolves in it, said the CBD, but any wolves traveling to those regions may be subject to aerial gunning, trapping and poisoning.
“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, decades before passage of the Endangered Species Act in 1973, exterminated wolves from the West,” said Michael Robinson of the CBD. “The Bush administration, acting on behalf of the livestock industry, is attempting to thwart recovery and bring wolves back to the brink of extinction.”
Acknowledging that there are more than 1,500 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, the group noted that only a fraction reproduce, since within each wolf pack only the alpha male and alpha female breed. Thus the “genetically effective” population is much lower than the total number of wolves. The group said both Wyoming and Idaho intend to kill approximately half their wolf populations, to reduce them to 15 breeding pairs in each state.
The wolves in Yellowstone are said by the CBD to be completely isolated, and since reintroduction in 1995 there have been no wolves documented to have traveled from elsewhere into the Yellowstone ecosystem and successfully bred. Recent peer-reviewed research cited by CBD predicts genetic “inbreeding depression” and resulting lower litter sizes in wolf packs in Yellowstone within a few decades.
The CBD and allied groups successfully sued the USFWS over its April 1, 2003 rule downlisting wolves from endangered to threatened — a prelude to removing them from the list of protected species. A federal court reversed that downlisting on Jan. 31, 2005.
“The Fish and Wildlife Service is making the same legal mistake now as it did in 2003, and imperiling wolves’ survival,” said Robinson. “This time, just like last time, this illegal action will not stand in court.”
With the delisting of the northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves, the USFWS now oversees the only remaining gray wolf recovery program, the southwestern U.S. wolf population.