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.

High Country News Classifieds
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...
  • WATERSHED RESTORATION DIRECTOR
    $58k-$70k + benefits to oversee watershed restoration projects that fulfill our strategic goals across urban and rural areas within the bi-national Santa Cruz and San...
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    We are a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that builds resilience on arid working lands. We foster ecological, economic, and social health through education, innovation, and collaboration....
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER
    Come work alongside everyday Montanans to project our clean air, water, and build thriving communities! Competitive salary, health insurance, pension, generous vacation time and sabbatical....
  • CAMPAIGN MANAGER
    Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA), a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to protecting, defending and restoring Oregon's high desert, seeks a Campaign Manager to works as...
  • HECHO DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors (HECHO) was created in 2013 to help fulfill our duty to conserve and protect our public lands for...
  • REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, COLUMBIA CASCADES
    The Regional Representative serves as PCTA's primary staff on the ground along the trail working closely with staff, volunteers, and nonprofit and agency partners. This...
  • FINANCE AND OPERATIONS DIRECTOR
    The Montana Land Reliance (MLR) seeks a full-time Finance and Operations Director to manage the internal functions of MLR and its nonprofit affiliates. Key areas...
  • DIRECTOR OF CONSERVATION
    The Nature Conservancy is recruiting for a Director of Conservation. Provides strategic leadership and support for all of the Conservancy's conservation work in Arizona. The...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • BIG BASIN SENIOR PROJECT PLANNER - CLIMATE ADAPTATION & RESILIENCE
    Parks California Big Basin Senior Project Planner - Climate Adaptation & Resilience ORGANIZATION BACKGROUND Parks California is a new organization working to ensure that our...
  • SCIENCE PROJECT MANAGER
    About Long Live the Kings (LLTK) Our mission is to restore wild salmon and steelhead and support sustainable fishing in the Pacific Northwest. Since 1986,...
  • NEW BOOK BY AWARD-WINNING WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, BRUCE SMITH
    In a perilous place at the roof of the world, an orphaned mountain goat is rescued from certain death by a mysterious raven.This middle-grade novel,...
  • MOUNTAIN LOTS FOR SALE
    Multiple lots in gated community only 5 miles from Great Sand Dunes National Park. Seasonal flowing streams. Year round road maintenance.
  • RURAL ACREAGE OUTSIDE SILVER CITY, NM
    Country living just minutes from town! 20 acres with great views makes a perfect spot for your custom home. Nice oaks and juniper. Cassie Carver,...
  • A FIVE STAR FOREST SETTING WITH SECLUSION AND SEPARATENESS
    This home is for a discerning buyer in search of a forest setting of premier seclusion & separateness. Surrounded on all sides by USFS land...
  • CARPENTER WANTED
    CARPENTER WANTED. Come to Ketchikan and check out the Rainforest on the coast, HIke the shorelines, hug the big trees, watch deer in the muskeg...
  • CAUCASIAN OVCHARKA PUPPIES
    Strong loyal companions. Ready to protect your family and property. Proven against wolves and grizzlies. Imported bloodlines. Well socialized.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!