© Russ Morgan/Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife
It took more than two decades and more than a million federal dollars to bring gray wolves back from the brink in the lower 48 states. That means, according to the federal government and some western states, it’s high time to start exterminating them again.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar this spring adopted the Bush rule to remove Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the northern Rockies without fully considering the scientific inadequacies of the plan, say conservationists. Defenders and other conservation groups have taken legal action to overturn the delisting. At press time, a district court judge announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service likely violated federal law when delisting wolves in Idaho and Montana. But, pending a final ruling on the case, the judge allowed wolf hunts in the two states to proceed—despite the objections of Defenders and its partners. The Idaho Fish and Game Commission says it will allow 220 wolves to be hunted in the state in 2009. And Montana has announced plans to kill 75 wolves in its state hunt.
“We’re hopeful that the ongoing hunt is only a temporary setback on the road to accomplishing our ultimate goal: restoring protections for wolves until a scientifically sound delisting rule that ensures a healthy regional wolf population, and adequate state plans are in place,” says Suzanne Stone, northern Rockies representative for Defenders of Wildlife.
Keeping wolves protected is especially important as the animals wind their way to their old haunts farther west. Last fall, remote cameras documented a wolf pack roaming Washington state for the first time since the 1930s. Same goes for Oregon, where two adult gray wolves and two pups were discovered last year by state wildlife officials in a remote and roadless part of the state, for the first time since the 1940s. In July, another new pack of wolves was documented in northern Washington along the Idaho border near Canada. Biologists confirmed it is a breeding pair and that the female was born near Boise, Idaho. She and the alpha male had at least three pups this year.
Wolves in the eastern third of Washington and Oregon, including the new pack, are considered to be part of the northern Rockies population by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. So when the agency delisted wolves, animals in this area also lost federal protection—even though populations in these states were never re-established.
Meanwhile, there’s hope that wolves—and bears—in Alaska may finally get a break from aerial gunning. The Protect America’s Wildlife (PAW) Act, endorsed by Defenders, was introduced into the Senate by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in July. The PAW act amends the federal Airborne Hunting Act of 1971, which banned the hunting of wildlife from airplanes.
The Alaska government has long attempted to use a wildlife-management loophole in the law as a way to allow private citizens to use aircraft to kill wolves and artificially boost moose and caribou populations for hunters. The state aims to nearly eliminate wolves in areas totaling more than 60,000 square miles: In some areas, 80 percent to 100 percent of the wolves could be wiped out. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game also recently targeted wolf packs included in a federally funded scientific study, despite concerns from the National Park Service.
Brown and black bears, including sows with cubs, are also targeted by the aerial-gunning program. In some regions, bears are located and tracked by aircraft and then the hunter can land to shoot the bear from the ground.
“This legislation is crucial,” says Rodger Schlickeisen, Defenders’ president. “Alaska’s program of gunning wildlife from the air has spiraled completely out of control, and this unnecessary program lacks the scientific rigor to back it up.”