New Study: Hunting Likely Spurring Harmful Declines in Northern Rocky Wolves

VICTOR, Idaho— Five conservation groups filed a petition today requesting that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continue monitoring northern Rocky Mountains gray wolves for another five years. The existing monitoring program, which is required by the Endangered Species Act after protections are removed for a species, is set to expire in May. The monitoring is crucial to ensure that the wolf population doesn’t slip to levels at which Endangered Species Act protections are again needed.

The groups based today’s request in part on a new study in the journal Science that found the Fish and Wildlife Service and states of Montana and Idaho have underestimated the impacts and risks of aggressive hunting policies for gray wolves instituted since protections were lifted. Since federal safeguards were first stripped in 2009, more than 2,300 wolves have been killed by hunters or trappers in the two states.

“This research confirms what many scientists have been saying all along,” said Andrea Santarsiere, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Aggressive hunting of wolves is harming the gray wolf population in the northern Rockies. Left unchecked, the numbers will continue to decline — a sad fact for an animal that we fought so hard to bring back from the brink of extinction. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service clearly needs to continue to keep an eye on this situation.”

In first removing Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in 2009, the Fish and Wildlife Service said that the required post-delisting monitoring period would be extended for an additional five years if any one of three criteria are met. One criterion requires an extension if a significant change in state law or management would significantly increase threats to the wolf population. Both Idaho and Montana have repeatedly increased hunting and trapping quotas in an effort to substantially reduce wolf populations, which according to the new study are almost certainly resulting in population declines.

“Antagonism towards wolves is one of the main threats that put them on the endangered species list in the first place. This has hardly changed, and the states have further demonstrated their continued aggression towards wolves by increasing killing efforts and liberalizing hunting and trapping of wolves” said Ken Cole, Idaho director for Western Watersheds Project. “The Fish and Wildlife Service should extend their oversight of wolf management by the states to ensure stable and viable wolf populations”

“As a backcountry elk and deer hunter myself, I find it appalling that in Montana hunters and trappers can legally kill up to five wolves annually, including deep within our Wilderness areas,” said Matthew Koehler, director of the Montana-based WildWest Institute. “Essentially this allows hunters or trappers to legally wipe out an entire wolf pack.”

Idaho has been especially aggressive in trying to reduce the wolf population. In 2014 the Idaho Legislature created the Idaho Wolf Control Board, allocating hundreds of thousands of dollars to killing wolves. Idaho has also contracted with the federal Wildlife Services to hunt, trap and aerially gun down wolves in the Lolo Zone and hired a professional trapper to eliminate two wolf packs in the Frank-Church-River-of-No Return Wilderness last winter. The agency has also turned a blind eye to an annual predator derby contest, in which participants win cash and prizes for killing wolves and coyotes, despite an agency policy condemning predator hunting contests as unethical.

“Idaho has been waging a war against wolves in the Lochsa and North Fork Clearwater basins, one of the wildest areas in the lower 48 states,” said Gary MacFarlane, ecosystem defense director of Friends of the Clearwater. “Further monitoring of this ill-advised program is needed.”

“The primary threat to wolves is active eradication efforts occurring throughout the Rocky Mountain distinct population segment,” said Nick Cady, legal director of Cascadia Wildlands. “Continued monitoring of this still-fragile population is without question necessary and critical to the wolf’s recovery in the United States.”

The Fish and Wildlife Service has argued that the wolf population has stayed relatively constant despite hunting, but according to the new study this conclusion is questionable. Among other problems, Montana has changed its counting methodology after delisting, and Idaho continues to rely on a convoluted mathematical equation that is likely to overestimate the wolf population, making it difficult to accurately determine population trends.

“Idaho and Montana aren’t safe places for wolves right now,” Santarsiere said. “This is no time for the Fish and Wildlife Service to walk away from its duty to ensure this population survives and thrives. We know these wolves have been hammered by hunting and aggressive state policies and still need help.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 900,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Cascadia Wildlands educates, agitates, and inspires a movement to protect and restore Cascadia’s wild ecosystems. We envision vast old-growth forests, rivers full of wild salmon, wolves howling in the backcountry, and vibrant communities sustained by the unique landscapes of the Cascadia bioregion.

Friends of the Clearwater is an Idaho-based nonprofit conservation organization that works to protect the wildness and biodiversity of the public wildlands, wildlife, and waters of Idaho’s Clearwater Basin.

Western Watersheds Project is a nonprofit conservation group founded in 1993 with 1,500 members whose mission is to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives and litigation.

The WildWest Institute’s mission is to protect and restore forests, wildlands, watersheds and wildlife in the Northern Rockies.

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32 Responses to Legal Petition Seeks Extension of Federal Monitoring for Northern Rockies Wolves

  1. avatar Theo Chu says:

    I hope there’s some action included that will provide USF&WS funding to do this. Otherwise they will have to divert funds from other species which may actually be facing higher risks.

    • avatar Louise Kane says:

      What risks are higher than human hatred , stupidity, greed, shortsightedness and over utilization and pollution of all natural resources?

      All of these actions have created habitat loss, overpopulation of humans to the detriment of all other species, climate change, and dangerous loss of biodiversity and entire ecosystems.

      For wolves, their lives are imperiled not only by loss of habitat, encroachment of habitat by humans, territorial disputes, starvation, Lyme, human introduced mange and parvo virus, but they are hunted mercilessly with extreme cruelty and lack of disregard for their social structures.

      Its almost comical to me when I hear the oft quoted refrain for delisting wolves, wolves are stealing another species ESA thunder. if ever a species needed protection from human threats it is wolves.

      Unless of course you think of species health as a number that is a mere fraction of the potential in a tiny portion of suitable habitat.

      I don’t

      • avatar rork says:

        “If ever a species need protection from human threats it is wolves.” Maybe cause how you value them, cause it sure ain’t about threat of extinction. They probably don’t even make the top 100 list in most people’s books.

      • avatar Theo Chu says:

        Human hatred, stupidity, greed, cruelty notwithstanding I believe wolves will hold their own. I think there are a number of species in greater jeopardy, that’s all.

  2. avatar Ida Lupines says:

    As a backcountry elk and deer hunter myself, I find it appalling that in Montana hunters and trappers can legally kill up to five wolves annually, including deep within our Wilderness areas,” said Matthew Koehler, director of the Montana-based WildWest Institute. “Essentially this allows hunters or trappers to legally wipe out an entire wolf pack.”

    Good. Wolf delisting has been nothing short of scandalous, since the backroom deal of the rider, right up to the amount of wolves that are allowed to be killed. I’m sick to death of the killing sprees, and I want those entrusted to protect our wildlife to quit catering to the special interests. If this is recovery, I fear for all other wildlife, such as the grizzlies next. Divvying up; how awful.

  3. avatar Barb Rupers says:

    Good news!

    “In first removing Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in 2009, the Fish and Wildlife Service said that the required post-delisting monitoring period would be extended for an additional five years if any one of three criteria are met.” What are the other 2 criteria that would result in the relisting of the wolf under the ESA? I have searched but not as yet been successful.

    • avatar WM says:

      Barb,

      You will find the other two criteria in the 2009 delisting rule discussion. This rule was, of course, codified in the Congressional rider as a federal law.

      http://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/74FR15123.pdf

      The language is at p. 15132-15133

      “We further improved, provided
      additional safety margins, and assured
      that the minimum recovery criteria
      would always be exceeded in our 2009
      post-delisting monitoring plan. Three
      scenarios could lead us to initiate a
      status review and analysis of threats to
      determine if relisting is warranted
      including:

      (1) If the wolf population for
      any one State falls below the minimum
      NRM wolf population recovery level of
      10 breeding pairs of wolves and 100
      wolves in either Montana, Idaho, and
      Wyoming at the end of the year;

      (2) if
      the portion of the wolf population in
      Montana, Idaho, or Wyoming falls
      below 15 breeding pairs or 150 wolves
      at the end of the year in any one of those
      States for 3 consecutive years; or

      (3) if
      a change in State law or management
      objectives would significantly increase
      the threat to the wolf population.

      Overall, we believe the NRM wolf
      population will be managed for over
      1,000 wolves including over 300 wolves
      and 30 breeding pairs in the GYA (in
      2008 there were 35 breeding pairs and
      449 wolves in the GYA). This far
      exceeds post-delisting management
      targets of at least 45 breeding pairs and
      more than 450 wolves in the NRM.”
      —————-

      I think pressure for continued monitoring is a good thing, accompanied with a bunch of federal funds to do it, and some kind of standard count protocols.

      However, we should not be at all surprised if FWS denied this petition, as being premature. It would seem that condition 3, the one the advocacy groups feel triggers review for continued monitoring, would have to logically be related to the other 2 conditions involving rapid population declines which, it would seem, are far from being thresholds for triggering monitoring. Cripes there must be upwards of 1,600-1,800 wolves in the NRM as of December 2015, and even if ID and MT kill off a bunch this winter (WY can’t because they are still listed there and YNP has its protections) the wolf population will likely be right back up there in Spring 2016.

  4. avatar Lonna O'Leary says:

    To the Conservation groups requesting this extension, I thank you on behalf of all wolves, wolf lovers, and anyone else who believes that wolves are essential to a healthy eco-system. I would like to make a suggestion that may help the wolves and conservation efforts to protect them. Collect numbers data on wolves in all states that have declared war on wolves. Showing an accurate count of wolf populations in these States is a very important way of proving to the courts that this petition needs to be approved. I’m sure you probably have already considered this, but just in case it hasn’t been considered I would suggest that the more data that proves that wolf populations are not stable or are declining because of hunting and trapping and encouraged slaughter, the better the chances are that this petition will get approved.

    • avatar Theo Chu says:

      And what if the data you want collected does not confirm your fears? Will you then support delisting?

      • avatar Yvette says:

        The problem is that science and the data that backs the science matters little in wolf politics. Keeping them listed is the only way to protect them from those you mentioned in your earlier comment.

        I’d like to see other animals listed too, but not even the sage grouse can get protection in the current politics.

  5. avatar Ida Lupines says:

    Sounds like we’ve got a case of ‘all of the above’.

    As far as ‘science’ goes, wolf persecution is based on politics, not science. Science isn’t the only aspect to think about when ‘managing wolves to see how many can be killed before they go extinct, or keep to the barest minimum level, or to keep ranchers and hunters happy. There’s also the science of social tolerance, which is rarely mentioned, and growing now that the country’s enlightened population shrugs off non-science based fears and myth, and become more aware of ecology, sustainability for the future, and climate change.

  6. avatar snaildarter says:

    6% of Americans don’t even believe we landed on the moon and I suspect our wolf haters are a good percentage of that same population. So science will not help with the haters but knowledge is always a better than ignorance. And we need for the Federal funding to continue.

    • avatar Immer Treue says:

      snaildarter,
      Add to that above group those who believe the world is flat.

    • avatar Outdoorfunnut says:

      Snaildarter, I know I’m not as sophisticated as the enlightened ones on this site. BUT, It appears to me that the word “science” is used as a pennant for those who like the predator …..the wolf. They fly it high and salute it on threads as you just did. “Hal science” . As it relates to wolves Snaildarter, and since you used that word as if you know what it means, could you please explain to us all just what you mean by science.

      When you use the word science are you saying that the wolf is Endangered? Clearly this animal is very prolific for when we were at a full court press at the turn of the century to whip them out we couldn’t do it.

      When you use the word science are you saying that wolf management plans developed by states like WI or MN are flawed? If they are, are they flawed (and not science) because wolves aren’t in all the good habitat of that state?

      I had the opportunity to read Judge Howell ruling sending wolves back on the endangered list….. Can you pick out the science she used to tell us all how wolves in the state of WI were endangered? Surely that’s the angle she used to get them back on the list because I sure she knows that wildlife management is a states responsibility.

      Please Snaildarter enlighten us……

  7. avatar Ida Lupines says:

    Just when you though you’d heard everything:

    Some ‘Hunter’ is About To Win A Prize for Killing the ‘Smallest Coyote’

    What a big man to do such a thing.

    And what if the data you want collected does not confirm your fears? Will you then support delisting?

    Since Theo’s question above hasn’t had any takers, may I answer it?

    Regardless of what any kind of numbers say, as long as you have these kinds of irrational mindsets regarding wolves and coyotes and other predators, it will never be safe to delist them.

  8. avatar Josh says:

    Ida and the mindset that the pro wolf side will never be happy is the reason wolves will continue to be such a hot point in the west.

  9. avatar Barb Rupers says:

    The pro wolf side will never be happy as long as the states manages wolves at a bare minimum to keep them from being relisted. Idaho has said they want no wolves. This is the reason the Nez Perce Tribe assisted with the original reintroduction. Ungulate “game” animals are not managed for a minimum number.

  10. avatar Amre Abubakr says:

    Very true, Barb. While cougars and wolves are not really under threat of extinction, the outdated anti-predator culture of some of these state game agencies need to change.

  11. avatar Josh says:

    One wolf killed by hunters is “to much” according to every pro wolf person I have seen on this blog!

    • avatar Barb Rupers says:

      That is because most on this site believe there are not currently enough wolves in suitable habits to be a functional wolf population in the ecosystem. Yellowstone’s population was the closest it has come. Too bad hunters and trappers keep pecking away at that population when a wolf sets foot outside the park.

  12. avatar Josh says:

    Barb there will never be enough. Thats my whole point. The Great Lakes area has plenty of wolves, they were delisted and EVERYONE freaked.

  13. avatar Trevor says:

    Personally I have a great respect for the animal and love their beauty and their representation of a free spirit. But coming from a heavy agricultural background I have seen firsthand what wolves can do to cattle herds and sheep flocks. And being a huge big game hunter one pack of wolves can put a huge dent in elk and deer herds. Ranchers and hunters grow this big frustration towards wolves because of this. Coming from Wyoming, hunting in the northern part of the state for elk is really eerie. A gun shot acts like a dinner bell to nearby wolves. Wolves are defiantly an ongoing topic spread throughout western states. I really like the idea of this extension to monitor the wolves. With heavy hunting and trapping we could see their numbers become scarily low. But when this extension lifts, I think there will be an even bigger target on the wolves.

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