Gray Wolves Make a Comeback

Did you miss the news dump on Friday? The Friday before Labor Day weekend? If you missed it, you’re not alone. Check it out:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that the Wyoming population of gray wolves is recovered and no longer warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Beginning September 30th, wolves in Wyoming will be managed by the state under an approved management plan, as they are in the states of Idaho and Montana.

Depending on your politics you either view this news as tremendously exciting, or horribly depressing. The news is exciting because we have successfully managed to reintroduce gray wolf populations into the Northern Rockies, and have done so so successfully that the wolf is being delisted and returned to state control. In the U.S., wildlife is generally under the control of the states, unless there is some special concern that warrants federal intervention, such as endangered species.

Of course, this issue of state control may be the reason for your blue attitude about the delisting of the gray wolf. You see, state control generally means that the state will be in charge of managing population numbers. Population numbers will be managed through controlled hunts (hunting seasons) and ongoing predator control. This is the part some people don’t like, due to their distrust of local politics in these matters, owed largely to the general hostility that the northern Rocky Mountain states have shown toward the wolf reintroduction program.

For my part, I view wolf reintroduction and delisting as a general conservation victory. Let’s first remember that the purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to protect species threatened with extinction: it’s not intended as a long-term wildlife management tool. It’s job is to recover species. Hat tip to the ESA. Since wolf reintroduction began in 1995, the population has grown to nearly 1,800 individuals in the northern Rocky states. The reintroduction program overall is considered a wild success, exceeding everyone’s expectations; therefore, continued ESA protections appear unnecessary. And lest you harbor concerns, the Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to play a role in wolf management, monitoring populations and requiring the states to maintain a minimum number of breeding pairs so that the population is sustained.

No doubt there will continue to be a lot of hard feelings about the wolf reintroduction program, and I fully expect the environmental groups to challenge the wolf delisting, just as I anticipate future problems with state management. The politics of wolf reintroduction is not going to disappear overnight. But really, isn’t all of this a hopeful sign for the future? The successful reintroduction of a major predator species, the return of a beautiful wild animal – and they are beautiful – once all but forgotten in the western United States?

(photo courtesy U.S. FWS)



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