Hunting Idaho’s delisted wolves - its legal, but not everyone is happy about it
Gray wolves: Is there a more controversial species in North America?
Wolves have always seemed to generate an emotional response in people. From the classic Russian children’s book (1936) and musical piece by Sergei Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf, to the Three Little Pigs fairy tale (1840’s), wolves have been a feared part of the natural world. These stories paint a portrait of wolves as clever, cunning, scary, and even evil. In both stories they are clearly a species to be feared. Our modern culture’s attitude towards wolves, reflected in these oft repeated stories, has led to the dramatic decline of wolves in North America, particularly in the Lower 48 States. Through hunting, trapping, and poisoning wolves were all but exterminated from everywhere in Lower 48 States outside a few isolated pockets near the northern borders of Minnesota and Montana. In 1974, gray wolves were listed as Endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
With wolves absent from the Rocky Mountain ecosystem for many years, wildlife managers began to point out that wolves actually played a positive (and irreplaceable) role in these natural systems. There was an overpopulation of deer and elk, and many of the animals were unhealthy, malnourished, or sick. There were no natural predators culling the herds. And hunters, who had effectively replaced the wolves at the top of the food chain, usually killed the strongest animals sporting the biggest trophy racks, rather than the weak and sick.
In 1987, the US Fish and Wildlife Service implemented a recovery plan for wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains, starting by reintroducing the wolves in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in 1995. The plan also included the reintroduction of wolves in other Rocky Mountain States like Idaho and Montana. The program has been hotly contested by ranchers, who understandably fear that wolves will kill livestock. Environmental groups on the other hand, have praised the program as a much needed step towards a better balanced natural system in what they consider to be one of country’s strongholds for biological health, the Northern Rocky Mountains.
The reintroduction program has been largely successful from a biological standpoint, and there are now about 1,500 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, according to Idaho Fish and Game. The wolves have been closely watched, with 84 different wolves in 50 different packs outfitted with radio collars.
On May 4th, 2009 wolves were removed from the Endangered Species List and individual states took over management of the wolves. In Idaho, wolves are being managed under the Idaho Wolf Population Management Act as big game, similar to black bears and mountain lions. Hunting of wolves is being allowed in Idaho this fall with many hunting zones opening September 15, and the rest on October 1st. All zones will be open until December 1st or until the zone’s quota is met. The state quota for the season is 220 wolves. The new law also allow any owners of livestock to "dispose" of wolves that are molesting or attacking livestock without a permit.
While it may sound as though recovery is complete and all is in order, there is a heated debate about whether the wolves are being managed responsibly. 29 wolves have been killed in Idaho this year, according to this story in the Idaho Mountain Express out of Ketchum (Sun Valley). For those people who have spent time in Ketchum or Stanley, the wolf was killed in the Eagle Creek Drainage north of Ketchum. Ketchum may be the most “wolf-friendly” town in Idaho. The Phantom Hill pack is well known in town because the animals don’t seem afraid of people and were often spotted near town last winter.
The wildlife advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, along with 12 other conservation groups filed a lawsuit asking the courts to reverse the removal of the Northern Rockies gray wolves from the Endangered Species list. Here's their take on the situation according to Suzanne Stone, the Northern Rockies representative for the Defenders of Wildlife:
"After working more than 20 years to restore wolves here, it’s a thrill to see the wolf population finally on the threshold of recovery with more than 1600 wolves in the region. However, we cannot ignore that this delisting plan fails to protect their future and would allow states like Idaho, which has demanded that all wolves be removed ‘by any means necessary,’ to decimate the population to less than a few hundred wolves. We need a delisting plan that allows the wolf population to thrive while addressing the needs and concerns of our regional residents."
The debate continues to heat up, especially now that wolves are being actively hunted. While our society may no longer be asking "who's afriad of the big bad wolf?" There certainly is plenty of discussion about whether or not we want him around. What do you think? Tell us in the comments thread.