Government officials announced on Thursday that the gray wolf, scientific name Canis lupus, of the Northern Rocky Mountains will be removed from the endangered species list.
p. The removal will end a 13-year restoration effort in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho.
p. The gray wolf was almost extinct in the 1990s due to excessive hunting and habitat degradation, but populations have recently rebounded thanks to hunting bans and reintroduction campaigns.
p. “Gray wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains are thriving and no longer need protection,” Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior Lynn Scarlett said in an Associated Press article.
p. Environmental groups plan on contesting the species’s removal from the list, arguing that removing federal protection for gray wolves would violate the Endangered Species Act, which requires politicians to use the most accurate science to determine adequate population sizes.
p. Government officials, such as Gray Wolf Recovery Coordinator Ed Bangs of the Fish and Wildlife Service, suggest that the wolf stocks are adequate and that, even with federal protection, one out of four wolves died every year. Despite this death rate, the wolf population has risen 24 percent each year.
p. When gray wolves first went under protection in 1974, they were almost extinct.
p. By the late 1980s, the gray wolf had only around 200 square miles of territory around Glacier National Park, but now they have almost 113,000 square miles of territory.
p. In 1995, around 66 gray wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park and Idaho. This initial stock rose to around 1,300 and combined with about 230 wolves that have moved into Montana from Canada.
p. The restoration effort was unpopular with ranchers because of wolf attacks on livestock. A thinned population meant better survival for their livestock.
p. However, even while gray wolves were federally protected under the Endangered Species Act, ranchers and wildlife agents were permitted to kill wolves that were attacking livestock.
p. Since the late 1980s around 724 wolves were killed legally and around that same number are estimated to have been poached illegally.
p. Hunting of wolves could be allowed as soon as this fall and wildlife agencies in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho are already planning hunts analogous to big game hunts for bears and mountain lions. Allowing hunting will likely reduce the chances that gray wolf populations will spread to nearby states.
p. Similar instances of wolves being removed from federal protection have occurred in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona and New Mexico. The Arizona and New Mexico populations are struggling despite reintroduction efforts.
p. Environmental groups such as Defenders of Wildlife and the Natural Resource Defense Council believe that new wolf populations should be established in Maine, New York, Oregon, Colorado, Utah and Washington, and possibly New Hampshire, Texas, and parts of the mid-Atlantic.
p. Many experts the reintroduced populations are strong enough to survive without protection. With hunting once again legalized, only time will tell if gray wolf populations in the Northern Rocky Mountains are viable.