Montana, Idaho and Wyoming Wolf Policies Foreshadow Extinction
By Ken Cole On April 22, 2010 · 36 Comments · In Delisting, Endangered Species Act, Wolves
The federal authorization for each state to reduce wolves to 100-150 animals puts northern Rockies wolves on a spiral toward extinction.
Interesting opinion piece about the inadequacies of the States’ wolf management plans.
Montana, Idaho and Wyoming Wolf Policies Foreshadow Extinction
By Michael J. Robinson, Guest Writer for New West
Tagged with: wolf delisting
Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project. We do not accept unsolicited “guest” authors or advertising.
36 Responses to Montana, Idaho and Wyoming Wolf Policies Foreshadow Extinction
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Micheal pretty well lays it out. Here is hoping Judge Molloy reads this and mandates the FWS to perform the assessment. And where is the suit by of Wildlife Guardians against Wildlife Services stand today? Is the NRM wolves going to follow the SW wolf into extinction?
In my opinion, much of what was published in this article, is an exaggeration..the NRM wolf population is not in jeopardy of extinction. In looking at the various wolf numbers reports, there is a strong population in the region…he is making speculative claims.
As far as the SW population, yes, the numbers are low, but the population is not currently extinct…
I know the states could manage for minimum populations, but currently that is not what they are doing, and I would be very surprised if they did, why would they want the feds in their face all the time? Even with the hunting seasons last year and the WS (the biggest threat) the populations seem to be pretty stable..with the exception of Yellowstone park, where there is no hunting..
“…the NRM wolf population is not in jeopardy of extinction.”
That all depends on how you define jeopardy. Listing status determinations embed two fundamental questions: (a) what is the risk of extinction, and (b) is this risk acceptable. Certainly, reducing wolf populations significantly can decrease genetic diversity and increase the populations susceptibility to stochastic events that could potentially lead to extinction–in other words, allowing states to manage for so few individuals increases their risk of extinction. Determining the extent of that risk is a question that scientists can answer, determining whether it is acceptable…well, that’s why we have courts.
Right now, currently, they are not being managed for minimum populations and even with the hunting and WS they are remaining stable, and in fact increasing slightly in some areas, unless there is an all out effort to kill them, the risk is very low for extinction, contrary to what was published in this opinion piece…
In My Opinion, this was an attention grabbing opt ed piece that can be refuted in many areas…I don’t like articles like this anymore than I do articles claiming all of the elk are going to be killed, or my children are in danger…
Let’s just cut the “extinction” short. It is a BS argument. If there are genetics or numbers problems just bring in a few more wolves from Canada, or as populations expand in the US, from elsewhere else. Robinson is full of it, as he has been continuously with his press releases for Center for Biological Diversity. Problem solved.
Any scientist on this blog have a problem with that technically genentic solution? It may not solve the politics of implementation, but it is still a technically viable way of solving a perceived problem, if it ever happens.
Ooops! Sorry for the bad grammar. Michael Robinson just plain makes me mad, sometimes.
Wolves were never extinct in Montana. Two years ago I was in Missoula at the Nine Ranger Station taking a horse packing class taught by “Smoke” Elser. Two Thousand eight would be Smoke’s 51 year and last year as a commercial outfitter in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. I ask Smoke if he had ever seen wolves in the Bob Marshall before the reintroduction in the mid 90’s. He said” I have seen wolves every year since I started packing in 1957. In 1959 I saw a pack of 8 wolves.” There has always been wolves in the state.
In 1984, I stopped in Butte, Montana at a friend’s booking agency and taxidermy studio and there was a freshly mounted white wolf which was going to the Helena headquarters of the fish and game. The story on that wolf was that the USFW services shot it out of a pack of 5 wolves around White Sulphur, Montana. Later that evening I was fishing on the Big Hole River at Maiden Rock and meet a biologist from the USFW. I ask him about the wolf and he said that it was a lone wolf killed up on the US/Canada Border. I told him the story that I was told. He sighs and said “I do not think that anyone will every know the true story”.
Then, I heard this story several times. If anyone has a heard it, I would like a verification. Before the Yellowstone wolf introduction, Parks Canada radio collar a pair of wolves in Banff, Alberta and both wolves left Banff and travel to Yellowstone then returned to Banff. They then returned to Yellowstone and once again returned to Banff where they perished. I have heard this story twice from 2 different sources and I have not been able to find its source.
Before the wolf reintroduction in Yellowstone there was a picture of a verified wolf in the Hayden Valley drinking water from a pond. That fall a wolf was shot between Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. In the later 1960’s there was a picture in the Billings Gazette of a black wolf taken in the Lamar Valley by Gene Wade of Cooke City. That picture may confirm Chase’s book “Playing God in Yellowstone”
For those that are worried about genetic diversity of wolves, I think that there is a greater migration of wolves from Canada than anyone has the knowledge about. I feel that one of the reasons that the wolf introduction was as successful as it was is because of the small resident population of native wolves intermingling with the new wolves. Just my personal opinion.
With all due respect, I think you are letting your dislike of Michael Robinson cloud your judgment. Species, in this case, refers to wolves in the NRM DPS; personally, I do not believe wolves are in any eminent danger of extinction; however, given the lack of regulatory mechanisms, and states’ expressed desire to “manage” wolves (i.e. kill as many as they think they can get away with), I believe they do meet the definition of a “threatened species”. That is, lacking adequate regulatory mechanisms, wolves in the NRM DPS are likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future.
I have watched Robinson spin his crap for far too long over the last couple of years. I find him, because of his CBD affiliation, often linking with other groups, equally as offensive as the wack jobs on the anti-wolf end of the spectrum. He just has a more visible podium and reaches a larger audience. He lives in New Mexico and is not a scientist, but an environmental writer, if I recall correctly.
I let my emotions slip on that one, but not my judgement.
Right now the states are subject to five years of federal oversight and they know that the court is watching as well. Even with G&F agencies attempting to be on their best behavior, Idaho’s legislature has been in the background passing ludicrous laws and resolutions (and don’t forget Utah’s outright abandonment of the wolf management program in favor of eradication).
“…unless there is an all out effort to kill them, the risk is very low for extinction”
The key term in this sentence is “low”. Who decides whether the risk is “low” or not? Low is relative and what is low for you is considerably higher for some of us. The key point is that there is nothing short of federal law that prevents states from eradicating wolves outside of the five year oversite window. And before you utter “the feds will simply relist”, consider that it takes, on average, almost a decade to get mammal species listed. Then consider the likelihood of legal challenges.
I think if Mr. Robinson is guilty of anything, it is overstating the certainty of the science; however, that does not differentiate this article from any other article about wolves seen in the mass media. All in all, I found it to be a pretty good summary of the “pro wolf” crowds arguments in favor of listing.
Well with my mind the way it works as a biologist, I feel the risk is very low, but I have a tendency to look at the science instead of the impassioned pleas and articles from both sides..
Now with all of the coverage and hubbub over wolves, I seriously doubt it would take 10 years to get them listed again..
What science are you relying upon that is guiding your assessment of the NRM wolf populations extinction risk?
You might want to take a look at how long it took to list the Canada lynx for a good comparison.
Reading studies by well versed authors is a good start and looking at continuing populations treads, leads me to believe that they are not in risk of going extinct, another area that many fail to look at, is what is the current migration patterns for those wolves just north of the border, how many are migrating and setting up new packs or inhabiting new territory?
And yes, I realize how long it took to get the lynx as well as other species listed, but I think that based on everything that has happened with wolves, if they are relisted after the 5 year period, it would be fast tracked, of course that can wax and wain based on the administration in power.
Anyway, you and I have agreed and disagreed over several points in the past, and this one is one we are going to have to agree to disagree..
I will add, I think one thing that could dramatically change over the next few years, is the Federal authority over states rights, with all of the rumbling around the country as well as various lawsuits contesting the Feds authority, one never know how the outcome will be…all it takes to change the dynamic of the situation will be a ruling by the Supreme Court in a states favor, and it will change the whole scope of things..
JB, SB: these are some key questions about the future of wolves. To get down to cases, though, let’s review how Judge Malloy ruled on the Yellowstone grizzly delisting case last fall. Specifically, on the question of population size and genetics:
“The Service has provided a reasonable explanation for its conclusions about
genetic diversity and population size, and the concerns about long-term genetic
diversity do not warrant a continued threatened listing for the Yellowstone DPS.”
p36,GYC v. Servheen et al.
So, that’s Malloy’s ruling on whether 500 bears, whose genetic health could end up being managed via translocations, is a good enough goal.
What’s he going to say about NRM wolves? We have much higher numbers of wolves than grizzlies, wolf populations grow far faster (clearly — from a handful in 1994 to roughly 1600 today), and they are arguably far better dispersers than grizzlies.
Michael Robinson also asserts in his NW piece that “the continued existence of wolves in Yellowstone depends on connectivity to wolves in central Idaho. ” If that’s a central part of his argument that NRM wolves are spiraling toward extinction, I don’t think he’ll get much sympathy from Judge Malloy — again, based on Malloy’s grizzly bear ruling.
If the courts don’t agree that we need more than a few hundred wolves “connected” via translocations, then what? Anybody have Plan B for achieving a naturally-interconnected, well-distributed population of wolves in ID-MT-WY?
Any thoughts on how Judge Molloy will approach the alleged technical deficiencies of the NRM DPS which serves as the basis for delisting?
SAP, SB, WM:
As I recall, Molloy also ruled that the regulatory mechanisms put in place for the grizzly (specifically, relying upon unenforceable agreements) were inadequate to protect grizzlies over the long term. The same is true for wolves in the NRMs.
Recall for a moment that the definition of a threatened species is “…any species which is likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.”
The question the FWS and court must answer is: can one foresee a scenario in which wolves in the NRM become endangered; is this scenario “likely”. Again, we see very ambiguous language (i.e. What constitutes the foreseeable future? What kind of probability is required for an event to be likely?
I submit that, based upon (a) the recent legislative history in WY, ID, MT, & UT, (b) the scientifically-documented views of hunters and ranchers in (some) of the NRM states, that post-monitoring eradication (or functional eradication) of wolves is likely sans some form of protective legislation (i.e. regulatory mechanisms). In my mind, a thorough threats analysis that incorporates the known biases of the legislatures and fish and game agencies of the NRM states clearly indicates that wolves are a threatened species as defined by the ESA (certainly 5 years is within the foreseeable future). But again, these are subjective judgments and I understand that others disagree.
I don’t misunderstand the word extinction when I apply it to wolves in the NRMs; rather, I am using the word in its legal sense (as defined by the Act). In the ESA, the word “extinction” is part of the definition of “endangered species”, which refers broadly to species, subspecies, and DPSs. For the purposes of the Act, the NRM DPS constitutes a “species” which is capable of being “threatened” or “endangered” and thus, going “extinct”. The Solicitor’s (2007) Memorandum discusses this otherwise odd language, arguing that Congress likely used the word to refer to “localized extinction”. It is about the only thing in his Memorandum that I agree with.
And I’ll add, we haven’t even come close to addressing to other important issues: (1) whether the unoccupied habitat within the NRM DPS constitutes a “significant portion” of the NRM wolves’ range, and (2) does allowing states to manage for the lowest population of wolves that is viable meet with the intent of the ESA.
All of this discussion on the “viability” of the NRM wolf population completely misses these broader points, and thus, greatly oversimplifies the legal questions at hand.
Sorry, should have been “…addressing two other important…”
You have persuaded me that protective legislation (at the state level) should be more closely examined, and is maybe even desireable. What would be its nature, and what sanctions do you perceive are necessary for a state to feel pain for non-compliance? Flesh out the main points, including what happens if a state initially shows good faith and then goes rogue (as we well know they can and do).
I’m afraid this is where you catch me with my pants down (if you’ll pardon the expression). I can’t think of a law that states can put into place that they can’t get rid of tomorrow. Soooo, I can think of two alternatives: (1) federal legislation that stipulates specific protective measures (not likely), or (2) continued federal oversight of essentially state-managed wolves (with wolves listed as a threatened species). I believe that–much like wolves in the Midwest–the hype will slowly die down over time, and eventually, wolves will be accepted as just another species on the landscape.
I recognize both of these ideas have serious flaws, so I’m all ears if people have other potential solutions?
Those that live in Montana and Wyoming and Idaho, are you fearful at all about wolves attacking you or your children? I’m just curious.
I have lived in all three states, currently reside in Idaho and own property in Montana, and I can tell I have no fear of wolves killing children..and I don’t know anyone who is..
Nope, not at all. I’m out there alot with my 6 yr. old grandson. My only concern, elk/deer numbers. As you know I hunted the LoLo, if I didn’t wear ear plugs because of my partners snoring, I’d be wearing them because of the wolves howling close by, they remind me of a holstein bull bellering. There will be a conflicts that’s just nature, but sad to say it’s part of the BS slant from one side. IMOP
Jon, forgot to mention in all the years I’ve been camping / hunting, the only time I’ve ever considered sleeping with a gun is when I forgot my ear plugs. I may try to blame my buddy’s death on the wolves, they couldn’t take the snoring either.
Elk 275, I think with the numbers in Canada, there has always been wolves moving through the upper portions of the lower 48. In 1992 my hunting partner watched a lone wolf through his spotting scope, he was about 12 miles NW of Clark Fork Idaho. In 1991 a fellow who was a guide in Idaho and Utah talked about seeing a pair of wolves over in the Yellowjacket area during a camping trip. Both of these sightings well before wolves were really even a household word. I’ve always wondered why these wolves never really established themselves, both of those areas hold a good number of wolves today.
Those using the word “extinction” in regards to the NRM wolves are not only exaggerating the situation but also misunderstanding the word. The correct word to use would be “extirpation”, since the species is not genetically unique and would still be found in Canada. Anyone who thinks the difference is trivial should look up the words “passenger pigeon”.
I don’t believe that wolves as a whole are in danger of becoming wiped out, not anytime soon anyways, but I do believe the wolves that live in Idaho and Wyoming and Montana are. You talk about Wyoming’s shoot wolves on sight in most of the state plan which was rejected, but god only knows what would have happened to wolves if the plan was accepted) and Idaho’s intention to reduce wolf #s down to under 200 when there are 1000 plus wolves in Idaho, how can one not think that wolves may be wiped out? I have heard that Idaho plans to reduce wolf population #s down to under 200. I don’t know how many total wolves there are in Idaho, but I’m guessing over 1000. If that is true of what Idaho plans to do in the future, wolves in Idaho are in danger, but as I said, gray wolves as a whole aren’t endangered of becoming extinct, not anytime soon anyways. The esa protects wolves where they are, not where they come from for those that may not know.
Thanks for the explanation Jon! Geeze!
Elk275, I don’t think most people will deny that there were no wolves in Yellowstone (or anywhere else in the west) before the reintroduction. The reintroduction was just meant to speed up the process as we would probably still not have wolves had it not been done.
Jon, you are right that the wolves could be in danger of extirpation in Idaho if the rhetoric that is used there is actually put into place. They certainly would have been extirpated in Wyoming had the law been accepted.
Yeah, wolves were already on their way in Idaho and Montana and Wyoming on their own. As prowolf said, humans helped speed up the process. So, this illegally planted non native canadian wolf theory doesn’t hold much ground. I also want to point out that there are some people who claim they had seen so called “native” wolves before the wolves got reintroduced. I believe those were wolves that came down from Canada and people just mistook them for the so called native Idaho wolf. There are also some who claim that these reintroduced wolves wiped out the native wolf. I don’t believe that to be true. The wolf that some claim was native to Idaho was basically wiped out by farmers and hunters.
Jon, are you sure you don’t mean ranchers and goverment hired predator control people. I believe the past wolf hunting season is proof that even with ATV’s, snowmachines, 4 wheel drives that can climb up a cows face, with guns that can shoot 1000 yds. that back when the wolf was extirpated, a hunter in a model T or on horse back packing a 30/30 with no scope, an effective range of about 100 yds. wasn’t the cause of their total demise. I believe it probably took proffesional exterminators and lots of 1080 to get the job done. A hunter just shot the last one.
I was saying it before and I will say it again, the best bet for the preservation of wolves and grizlies is to expand Yellowstone Park and preserve other wilderness areas in the West.
What if a Sara Palin or a Glen Beck gets into office someday claiming to be God’s representative on earth? Wolf policy can change overnight. A National Park has some inertia to it.
Yellowstone National Park can not be expanded without congressional approval and I am not for it one bit. Hell we can not even enact a wilderness bill which I am for 100% percent.
National parks containing migratory ungulates with adequate winter range are important. We have very few. Yellowstone is not one. This is a problem that begs for a solution.
There is great winter range north-northwest of St. Anthony that could be set aside or included into an expanded Park. There is already some Yellowstone elk that migrate to this area to winter. If Island Park was protected from logging, hunting, and ATV’s, that herd would probably grow substantially.
There may other areas of desert near Pinedale, Cody, or Livingstone that could be included with some corridors for ungulates to migrate.