Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Grey Wolf Endangered Status May Change Again

USFWS photo
The grey wolf, Canis lupus, is a study of how complicated the listing of endangered species has become. This is a species that has been on and off lists both federally and in certain states to the point of confusing most people about whether they are endangered or not.

Last week, a federal judge said the grey wolf should go back on the endangered species list in Montana and Idaho. That decision does not sit well with hunters, ranchers and states' rights advocates. The ruling overturned Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's decision to keep the grey wolf off the list in 2009.

The U.S. District Court Judge said that the the Endangered Species Act required endangered species like the Northern Rockies gray wolf to be treated as a whole population, rather than on a state-by-state basis. If it's listed as endangered in Wyoming, it should be listed that way in Montana and Idaho too.

Wolf supporters and many environmental groups say that the current Rocky Mountain population (1,700+ wolves) is not enough to ensure the long-term genetic health of the population.

Right now the reinstated protection means the states once again have to follow federal guidelines for managing wolves.

Wolves were eradicated from the region in the 1930's as part of an overall campaign to eliminate many of the native predators.

The Endangered Species Act in 1973 started efforts to restore the Northern Rockies wolf population.

Wolves that had moved into the Canadian/Montana border region starting in the 1970s began to return to their historic habitat in the region. By 1995, that population had grown to about 70 wolves.

Though this blog is clearly on the side of endangered species, I always tread carefully in the area of politics and law because it often has little to do with protecting wildlife and more to do with money and power.

Ranchers and landowners will say that wolves present the greatest threat to their livestock. Environmental groups will quote statistics from the National Agriculture Statistics Service, that show that only 1% of lost livestock, including unconfirmed losses, is due to wolves. They say the true threats are still disease, birthing issues, extreme weather, and other predators, including wild dogs.

By 2009, the Northern Rockies wolf population had grown to around 2,000 animals. That was the number that biologists had estimated was necessary for population recovery.

That same year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service de-listed the wolves and opened a hunting season in Idaho and Montana. The population went down to 1,650 wolves which made it again endangered.

This back and forth way of determining status seem doomed to cause only controversy and offer limited protection to a species. It seems to me that decisions under the Endangered Species Act should be based on science, not politics. But that is definitely more esily said than done.

Gray Wolves (Eye to Eye With Endangered Species)

Yes, we don't worry much about wolves in New Jersey. But you can see wolves in our state. Check out wolves at the Lakota Wolf Preserve located near the Delaware Water Gap and the Turtle Back Zoo in Essex County.

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