“The Endangered Species Act is not a tool to turn the clock back, according to Jimenez. Rather, it is designed to prevent the extinction of a species. Once the species is recovered, management is transitioned back to the states.”
~ Mike Jimenez, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s wolf coordinator for the Northern Rockies
Wolves’ past, present and uncertain future
Most will agree that the spotlight should remain on state management of wolves, in this case, in Wyoming. A ruling from the U.S. District Court halted the deeply flawed management of wolves by Wyoming because of its history of hostile and extreme anti-wolf policies. Prior to re-listing, wolves were treated as vermin in the majority of the state under its state management plan and they were killed along the borders of Yellowstone National Park and throughout national forest lands south of Jackson Hole. If Wyoming wants to resume management of wolves, it must develop a legitimate conservation plan that ensures a healthy sustainable population of wolves in the Northern Rockies in the long term. And, the plan must be based on the most informed scientific principles and an objective review of the needs for such a plan based on the facts:
- As of 2014, Wyoming maintains 1.27 MILLION head of cattle. According to Wyoming Gray Wolf Recovery Status Report that was drafted in 2011 by Jimenez (the last full year prior to state management of wolves in Wyoming and the implantation of its predator zone), wolves killed 35 cattle, 30 sheep, one horse and one dog. With depredation losses as low as USFWS’s statistics reflect, what’s the justification for killing wolves at any time, by anyone, in any manner, for any reason in 85 percent of the state (and without a license required)?
- In September 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced $900,000 in grants under the Wolf Livestock Demonstration Project Grant Program. Grants will be distributed to several wolf states including Wyoming. The grants assist livestock producers in undertaking proactive, non-lethal activities to reduce the risk of livestock loss from predation by wolves, and compensate producers for livestock losses caused by wolves. If Wyoming is truly committed to maintaining a sustainable wolf population in the state, we recommend that they consider rules, similar to those in place that are now working in Oregon, that encourage ranchers to enact proactive nonlethal measures to avoid the very conflict that leads to controversial management plans like a predator zone. These rules should be a welcome solution to the myriad of problems it faces in the public forum.”
- According to Jimenez, “wolves prey on vulnerable elk, deer and moose populations. That causes conflict with hunters.” But, according to an August 2014 press release by Wyoming Fish and Game in the Billings Gazette, “ “Pronghorn, deer numbers down but elk doing well in NW Wyoming” the facts reveal:
- Elk populations in the state remain healthy and this fall there will be good opportunity to harvest an elk. Good forage conditions on the summer range will likely hold elk on public lands later this year than in previous years. And, in fact, in some areas, elk numbers exceed management objectives and antlerless elk hunting opportunities have been increased.
- For the past few years, mule deer populations have struggled, but not because of wolf predation. Harsh winters along with yearly outbreaks of hemmorhagic disease have taken a toll on the deer population. It is also important to note that despite these declines, mule deer hunting was not halted to help the struggling population.
- Hunters pursuing white-tailed deer will likely see fewer deer than past years – but not because of wolf predation. In 2013 hemmorhagic disease caused a significant die-off of white-tailed deer in most areas. Because of this, most hunt areas have fewer licenses and hunting opportunities in 2014. But, again, white-tail deer hunting was not discontinued in response to these declines.
- Moose numbers in hunt areas 9 and 11 in the Absaroka Mountains are still at low densities. But despite low permit levels, hunters still had good luck and harvested mature bulls with several (plus 45-inch) bulls being harvested.
So, we ask again, where is the justification for killings wolves in 85% of Wyoming? Let’s not forget that after the passage of the federal Endangered Species Act in 1973 and federal protections were afforded the gray wolf, federal recovery programs resulted in the rebound of wolf populations in limited parts of the country. Approximately 5,500 wolves currently live in the lower 48 states —a fraction of the species’ historic numbers.
Based on the results of a study by Drs. Creel and Rotella (2010), “Meta-Analysis of Relationships between Human Offtake, Total Mortality and Population Dynamics of Gray Wolves (Canis lupus),” population growth declines as wolf hunting increases, even at low rates of wolf kills; the populations in the study declined with quotas much lower than the thresholds identified in current state proposals. The altered pack structure that results from human-caused mortality causes an additional increment of wolves to die in addition to the predicted numbers due to reduced breeding and overall survival. They asserted that the effects of killing wolves on population growth may also not be fully manifested in one year. Both Creel and Rotella urged that their results should be expressed in policies for the management of large carnivores, particularly delisted wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains.
Finally, the best available scholarship clearly indicates that good wildlife management is a judicious balance between science and democracy. Advocates of wolf hunting claim that wolf hunting is supported by the best-available science. This misrepresents the role of science. The best-available science clearly indicates that we have the technical ability to manage a wolf hunt without endangering the population viability of wolves. But there is no science that concludes it is necessary to kill wolves, especially at any time, by any person, in any manner, for any reason in 85 percent of a state.