Conservationists wrong to oppose wolf hunt

Wolves have recovered, and it's time for more rational management

 

I never thought I’d say this, but wolf recovery in the West has been the most successful program ever accomplished under the Endangered Species Act. Thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are more than 1,650 wolves in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming today, as well as a couple more wolves in Oregon, Washington and Utah. Only 15 years ago, there were none.

For many years I doubted that wolves could ever be restored to the West. Now, packs can be found in most of the formerly vacant drainages in central Idaho, filling nearly all of their original niches.  But because of their recovery, wolves can now be hunted in Idaho and Montana, where about 20 percent of the wolf population is scheduled to be killed this year.  For just 12 bucks, you, too, can shoot a wolf in Idaho.

In the 1980s, I worked with the Idaho Conservation League, and we challenged the original wolf reintroduction proposal in court because we had evidence that two wolves already lived in northern Idaho. The Fish and Wildlife Service argued that only a reintroduction plan could recover the wolves in the Northern Rockies, and we lost the case. The federal agency was right, however, and its work in wolf recovery is, frankly, an amazing accomplishment.

When the wolves were brought back in 1995 and 1996, the decision stated that when the population grew to 15 pairs in two out of the three reintroduction states, the wolves would be “delisted” -- taken off the endangered species list that protects animals from being killed. A few years later, the number of breeding pairs triggering a delisting was increased to 30 pairs in two of the three states.  In 2009, I am no longer working for the Idaho Conservation League, but I know that the number of wolves in Idaho is far greater than 30 breeding pairs.

Now, several conservation groups are fighting to keep the wolves listed as endangered for ecological reasons -- despite the number of wolves and their apparent success. The groups’ lawsuit argues that the wolves have not recovered yet.

That is simply disingenuous, as the goal has clearly been met. Conservationists need to be honest about their goals. If they insist on supporting shifting numbers, they may find that they represent shifting support. More to the point, however, is their refusal to accept that this victory for wolves endangers the Endangered Species Act, which protects all endangered species. What Defenders of Wildlife and other groups have done in filing a lawsuit fails to serve the wolves, the integrity of the law and the people of Idaho and the West.

At the same time, Idaho’s Department of Fish and Game needs to make rules that reflect history: Wolves were slaughtered in the past and must not be slaughtered in the future. So far, the state’s rules are inadequate. If so many wolves are killed that fewer than 15 packs in both Idaho and Montana remain, the route to re-list the wolves under the Endangered Species Act should be clear, rapid and automatic. Punishment also should be severe and automatic for anyone who poaches a wolf, and the trapping and poisoning of wolves should continue to be illegal, as that is primarily what caused their extermination in the first place.

In addition, each wolf that is legally shot should bring in at least $150 or even as much as $1,000 to the state of Idaho. The pittance of $11.50 for a hunting tag dishonors biologists, hunters, the federal and Idaho governments and the people of Idaho -- not to mention the wolves themselves. It also dishonors the Endangered Species Act, which acts as the conscience of our nation with regard to wildlife. We have paid dearly to have wolves returned to our land, and the hunting tags we issue should reflect that. 

Finally, now is the time to stop bickering and begin to manage wolves rationally. I hope that the Idaho Department of Fish and Game makes it clear that wolves will continue to exist in our state forever. That is the agency’s job as it begins this new chapter in wolf management, with hunting added to the mix. Conservationists have a different task: learning to accept some losses of wolves in order to ensure their continued survival as a species.

Mike Medberry is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He lives in McCall, Idaho.

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • WATER POLICY ANALYST WITH WRA (BOULDER)
    Position Summary: Western Resource Advocates seeks a passionate Water Policy Analyst with knowledge of western water issues to join our Healthy Rivers Team to strengthen...
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST
    9+ acre inholding. Passive solar strawbale off the grid and next to the Continental Divide Trail in ponderosa pine/doug fir forest at 7400.
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • PROGRAM MANAGER, SUSTAINING FLOWS
    Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • PROGRAM ASSOCIATE - VERDE RIVER EXCHANGE
    Verde River Exchange - Friends of the Verde River, Cottonwood, AZ. Apply at https://verderiver.org/employment-opportunities/
  • CODE COMPLIANCE OFFICER
    Teton County Planning & Building is hiring! Our ideal candidate is a team-player, a problem-solver, pays attention to detail, and can clearly communicate technical material...
  • ARCHITECTURE DRAFTSPERSON/PROJECT MANAGER
    Studio Architects is seeking a full time Architectural drafts-person/project manager with1-3 years of experience to join our firm. At Studio Architects our mission is to...
  • ASSISTANT MANAGER/TRAINEE, COLORADO RANCH
    needed for 16,000+ acre conservation property in south central Colorado. Qualified candidate would have experience working on a ranch or wilderness property, general forestry/fire management...
  • FARM HAND &/OR NANNY IN ESCALANTE
    Nanny for 18-mnth-old. Yearly salary, vacation, health insurance. Spanish/other foreign-language native spkr prefrrd.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Washington Association of Land Trusts seeks an ED to build on WALTs significant success & to lead the association to new levels of achievement. See...
  • BEAUTIFUL CUSTOM STRAWBALE HOME IN WESTERN COLORADO!
    Secluded, energy efficient Southwestern home on 40 wooded acres. Broker - Rand Porter - United Country Real Colorado Properties. 970-261-1248, $425K
  • FORMER RETREAT CENTER/CONSERVATION PROPERTY FOR SALE
    57 acres in Skull Valley, AZ, 17 miles from Prescott, year-round creek, swimming holes, secluded canyon, hiking/meditation trails, oaks, pines, garden, greenhouse. House, office building,...
  • ARIZONA PUBLIC LANDS ORGANIZER
    Title: Public Lands Organizer About the Arizona Wildlife Federation (AWF) The AWF is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating, inspiring, and assisting individuals and organizations...
  • HISTORIC RANCH HOME W/ 20 ACRES
    Historic 1893 Ranch Headquarters. 4 Bdrm, 3.5 Ba, 4000 ft2. Remodeled 2002. Includes 2 studio apts, stables, arena, workshop, 5 RV hookups. Chirachua & Peloncillo...
  • VICE PRESIDENT OF RETAIL OPERATIONS
    The Vice President of Retail Operations will provide overall leadership and accountability for purchasing, product development, merchandising planning, visual merchandising, retail operational excellence, oversight and...
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
    Grand Staircase Escalante Partners seeks an experienced fundraiser with excellent communication and organizational skills.
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    position in Phoenix with the Babbitt Center for Land and Water Policy.
  • ROADS END CABIN NEAR YELLOWSTONE
    Vaulted ceilings, two fireplaces, two bedrooms, loft, jetted tub, wifi. Forest, mountain views. Wildlife. [email protected]
  • ACCOUNTING CLERK
    Our director is seeking to employ the services of an Accounting Clerk to assist with various accounting and administrative tasks. This is a great opportunity...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COMMUNITY RADIO PROJECT
    Community Radio Project, Cortez, CO (KSJD & the Sunflower Theatre). Visit ksjd.org and click on the Executive Director search link. CRP is an EOE.