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400 Scientists Still Can’t Handle Wolf Recovery in Northern Rockies

After decades of crying that wolves were going to be eradicated by the states, wolf advocates continue to be in denial over getting what they asked for: wolf recovery.

The Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population (encompassing Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming) first met biological recovery goals back in 2002, but it took another 15 years after that milestone for wolves to be removed from federal protection in Wyoming. The timeline was shorter in Montana and Idaho – they only had to wait an additional 9 years after biological recovery goals were met before Congress stepped in in May 2011 and required wolves in those states to be removed from federal protection.

Wolf advocates have decried the removal from federal protection since day 1, and have now launched an aggressive new effort to have this population of wolves put back under federal protection – not just for now, but in perpetuity.

Since their removal from the Endangered Species list, wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming have become another huntable wildlife species added to the long list of wild animal species sought by outdoorspeople. But some wolf advocates, who conveniently use the title “scientist” in advocacy letters that have little to do with science, just can’t seem to get over the fact that the Northern Rockies wolf population has recovered far beyond levels dictated in federal recovery plans.

According to the International Wildlife Coexistence Network (aka wolf activist Suzanne Stone’s newest endeavor, based in Idaho), 400 scientists have called on the Biden Administration to enact an emergency relisting of the Northern Rockies wolf population under the Endangered Species Act, and to support efforts to protect wolves, grizzlies and bison in perpetuity. These 400 scientists come from far and wide, from Scotland, Malaysia, and Australia, to the Republic of Congo, Israel, Croatia, and Kyrgyzstan. These folks apparently know how wolves should be managed in Wyoming and our neighboring states.

According to IWCN’s release of the letter, “Today, the state of Idaho will begin an eradication campaign to slash 90% of gray wolves from the landscape, with a goal of dropping the population from 1,500 to 150 wolves.”

In reality, Idaho’s new law does not propose “an eradication campaign to slash 90% of gray wolves from the landscape.” The law says is this: “"Wolves may be disposed of by any federal agency, state agency, private contractor, political subdivision of the state of Idaho, or agency of another state when the population has exceeded the recovery goals of the Idaho wolf conservation and management plan in an effort to maintain a balance of all wildlife populations." page 9, line 30, SB1211. Read the law for yourself here.

Since Idaho’s wolf plan requires the state to maintain a minimum population of 15 packs of wolves (about 150 wolves), and the state currently harbors 10 times that number (about 1,500 wolves), Idaho has a lot of room for harvest without jeopardizing the population beyond what is laid out in the plan. Idaho has met biological recovery goals for wolves in every year since 2000.

The letter from the scientists complained: “Weeks after the Idaho legislature acted, Montana passed similar legislation seeking to eradicate 85% of that state’s wolf population.”

That’s not what the legislation says though. What is says is that Montana’s wolf hunting and trapping seasons are to be conducted “with the intent to reduce the wolf population in this state to a sustainable level, but not less than the number of wolves necessary to support at least 15 breeding pairs.” Read the Montana law here.

Back in 2010, Montana had at least 566 wolves in 108 packs – including 35 breeding pairs. The state currently has about 1,000 wolves. Montana wildlife officials aren’t proposing to eradicate 85% of the state’s wolf population either. Read the proposed changes here.

To avoid the need for relisting, Montana has agreed to maintain at least a minimum of 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs.

And of course, Wyoming was thrown into the letter from the scientists, by noting:

“And Wyoming still allows wolves to be killed across nearly 90% of the state. These decisions erase any chance of continued recovery of these wolf populations.”

Wyoming has been in charge of wolf management in the state since April 2017, and during that time, there have not been any major changes in its management program, so the Chicken-Little claims that the sky is falling don’t pan out. To achieve delisting, Wyoming agreed to manage for a population of at least 10 breeding pairs and at least 100 wolves outside Yellowstone National Park. The wolf populations in Yellowstone and on the lands of sovereign nations in Wyoming would provide the remaining buffer above the minimum recovery goal intended by the management objective of at least 15 breeding pairs and at least 150 wolves statewide.

At the end of 2017 (the year Wyoming wolves were removed from federal protection), Wyoming had at least 347 wolves in 53 packs. At the end of 2020, Wyoming had at least 327 wolves in 44 packs.

This was the 19th consecutive year Wyoming exceeded the numerical, distributional, and temporal criteria established by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for wolves to be removed from Endangered Species Act protections.

The Chicken Little wolf advocates need to get a grip. Wolves are here, they are hunted, and state management has not resulted in a need to reinstate ESA protections. To suggest otherwise is merely a ploy for fundraising, and to pursue their intentions to have wolves protected wherever they may roam, into infinity – reality be damned.

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