August 25, 2011
The U.S. federal government and the state of Wyoming agreed to revisions in the state’s gray wolf management plan, preparing a path for the removal of the gray wolf from the federal endangered species list. The agreement was denounced by Earthjustice and Center for Biological Diversity, which argued that the pact is a step backward for wolf recovery in the northern Rocky Mountains.
On Aug. 3, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service highlighted the following components of the agreement:
- The development by the state of Wyoming of a wolf management plan to maintain a healthy wolf population at or above the USFWS’s recovery goals
- Wyoming will provide for genetic connectivity with other wolf subpopulations in the northern Rockies
- The state will ensure that gray wolves in Wyoming are managed so that they will not need to be returned to the federal list of endangered and threatened wildlife
Earthjustice, however, said the agreement allows Wyoming to retain its predator status for wolves in nearly 90 percent of the state, which the group said “… allows unlimited wolf killing and outright persecution of wolves.”
Stripping endangered species status for gray wolf
Once Wyoming incorporates the revisions into the wolf management plan, the USFWS will proceed with a proposed rule to delist the gray wolf in Wyoming. That proposed delisting rule, said USFWS, will be subject to public and peer review as part of a formal rulemaking process, and a final determination to delist wolves in Wyoming and return management of the species to Wyoming will be dependent upon corresponding changes also being made to state statutes and regulations.
Until a final determination to delist gray wolves is published, wolves in Wyoming will remain fully protected under the Endangered Species Act, according to USFWS.
Citing the success of the wolf reintroduction program, the agency said the northern Rocky Mountain wolf population:
- Is biologically recovered, with more than 1,650 wolves and over 110 breeding pairs.
- Has exceeded recovery goals for 11 consecutive years,
- Fully occupies nearly all suitable habitat
- Has high levels of genetic diversity and gene flow within the region’s meta-population structure.
Under state management, USFWS expects the northern Rocky Mountain wolf population will be maintained above recovery levels and will no longer face a risk of extinction.
“Responsible management by the state wildlife professionals of the Wyoming Game and Fish Department � which includes regulated, limited trophy game hunts in certain areas similar to those conducted for other game species like elk and mountain lions — will ensure the long-term conservation of this population of wolves,” said USFWS Director Dan Ashe.
Earthjustice disagreed. “Wyoming has once again succeeded in strong-arming the FWS into submission, giving tentative approval to an approach to wolves that harkens back to years gone by when wolves were virtually exterminated in the western United States,” said Earthjustice attorney Doug Honnold.
“After all the efforts to promote wolf recovery in the Yellowstone area, this is a major step backward for wolf recovery.”
Gray wolf survival in the northern Rockies
“Along with the killing of wolves that were recently delisted via congressional rider in Idaho and Montana, delisting and persecution of wolves in Wyoming bodes poorly for the species’ long-term survival throughout the northern Rocky Mountains,” said Kieràn Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity.
“It will also inhibit recovery in Colorado, where wolves are only starting to return by way of Wyoming.”
CBD said that under the agreement, Wyoming would only be required to keep alive 100 wolves or 10 breeding pairs outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks (which together provide habitat for a few dozen wolves that would remain protected while in the parks).
However, the group pointed out that approximately 300 wolves are thought to live outside the national parks in Wyoming. The agreement, CBD believes, will allow the unregulated killing of wolves throughout most of the state (excluding the northwestern corner) where hunting permits will be issued.
The boundaries of that northwestern region will shift slightly on a seasonal basis to allow wolves to migrate in and out of the parks, although there is no science indicating that permitted hunting instead of unrestricted killing on a seasonal basis will in fact facilitate genetic exchange between Yellowstone wolves and those in Idaho, noted CDB.
The group believes most wolf killing will probably take place via federal aerial gunning of radio-collared wolves, always preceded, it said, by the shooting of their uncollared family members.