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Know the West

A pack of problems for wolves


This past year, the West’s wolves have had an even rougher time of it than usual. In the Northern Rockies, they’ve been bounced on and off the endangered species list, and in Yellowstone, more than usual have died. In the Southwest, it’s back to the drawing board after reintroduction plans failed miserably.

After the Fish and Wildlife Service delisted the gray wolf in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming last February, hunters immediately shot more than a dozen. Enviros sued, and last September the agency agreed to keep the predators listed until it could determine whether wolves would survive long-term without Endangered Species Act protections. That decision apparently didn’t require much extra thought – the agency just announced that it will again take wolves off the list (except in Wyoming, where the state has yet to come up with a reasonable management plan). Expect another lawsuit.

Meanwhile, for the first time in three years, the wolf population of Yellowstone has dropped. The northern range lost 40 percent of its wolves in 2008, while packs in the interior part of the park were down by 11 percent, due to distemper, mange, and fatal fights between rivals. The park now has 124 individuals and just 6 breeding pairs, the fewest since 2000. Wildlife populations fluctuate naturally from year to year, though, so it’s hard to say whether this represents a trend.

Speaking of population declines, the feds recently admitted that their 1982 plan for recovering the Mexican wolf has not worked and needs a major overhaul. Only about 50 Mexican wolves now roam free in Arizona and New Mexico, while federal officials have killed or removed more than 50 over the past decade for preying on livestock. Fish and Wildlife blames its failure to develop a new plan for the Mexican wolf on all the litigation over the gray wolf.

Wolves have shown us over and over that all they really need is for humans to leave them alone and give them some space. At this point, it's not wolves who need managing -- it's people.