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A bad call on wolves

Andrew Wetzler

Posted March 9, 2009

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Illegally shot male wolf in Idaho

In some extremely disappointing news, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced last Friday his intention to "affirm" the Bush administration's decision to remove Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and Upper Midwest.  As we've written about extensively at Switchboard, the Bush administration's delisting decision was grounded neither in science nor in law.  Friday's decision will strips wolves of protection not only in Montana and Idaho, but also in eastern Washington and Oregon and northern Utah as well.  As a consequence, wolf populations in some of these states could be subject to wide-spread killing.  Idaho had already asked the federal government for permission (s they won't need if the delisting goes through) to kill over 100 wolves in and around the Lolo National Forest.

The truly sad thing about Friday's decision is how close we are to true wolf recovery in the region.  Wolves have already started to recolonize parts of Washington, but they are far from recovered there.  A lone female wolf just showed up in Colorado, completing an extraordinary 1,000 mile trek from Yellowstone in search of a mate.  While she will remain protected (albeit mateless) so long as she stays in Colorado, the prospect of other wolves making a similar journey just got a lot dimmer.  This highlights one of the major problems of the wolf-delisting plan--from a geographic point of view it paints with far too broad a brush. 

NRDC will be sure to challenge the decision at the earliest possible opportunity. 

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Paul TackesMar 12 2009 12:34 AM

Mr. Wetzler,
Though I admire your dedication to environmental concerns and certainly NRDC does some good things, I am troubled by the radical stance and scare tactics that are employed. As a Montana resident I can tell you that the portrayal that NRDC presents of the situation involving wolves is hyperbole. The entire project of wolf reintroduction was uncalled for. It was simply a political maneuver on the part of those trying to make a name for themselves. In a conversation with a USNPS biologist working in Glacier Park in the late 70's I was told of the growing wolf population in and around Glacier Park. Then in 1990 reports of wolf sightings within 100 miles of Yellowstone Park in both Montana and Idaho were reported locally but not mentioned by introduction zealots. Before introduction a wolf was killed in Wyoming by accident on the southern edge of the Park. Now we as a nation spent millions on reintroduction because a species which was expanding its range wasn't doing it fast enough for some. This kind of tinkering with the natural course of events reflects the childish trait of being unwilling to wait- I believe Daniel Goleman dubbed it lack of emotional intelligence.
Many of the instances, when wolves have had to be put down, it was the result of habituated behavior in killing domestic sheep or cattle. Automobiles also have killed wolves inadvertently in and around the Park.
When wolves are killed by the authorities it requires considerable manpower and technology. Aircraft and radio tracking devices have been employed in justified removal of problem animals. I suggest to you the threat of widespread decimation of wolf numbers because of delisting is a fabrication to fleece the environmental flock of more cash. I spent 25 plus years trying to locate wolves on ventures to the BWCA from 1965 to 1990 and only once heard them in the middle of the night. I could not fathom trying to pursue a wolf in that habitat. And if you claim to be able to move quickly over land and water in the BWCA you have travelled the paved portion. Rest assured I have traversed the high country northwest of Mammoth in the Park and there is little likelihood that I could ever approach a wolf with the intent of doing it harm. Without catching one by surprise, which I have been trying to do for a long while, they are in no danger. Additionally, if they are designated a game animal by the states they will be managed with sustainable populations in mind. You mention a female traveling to Colorado. Wolves have been sighted by Crow Tribal members in the northern reaches of the Big Horn Mountains, sightings near Jordan, Montana and reports although unverified in western North Dakota.
The image you attached to your commentary gives no indication of the cause of the wolf fatality. The background scene is reminiscent of the Lamar Valley between Norris and Mammoth. Perhaps you should reveal the reason this particular animal was a fatality. I am suspicious and skeptical of your tactics. This from someone who was a diligent protector of the resource as an NPS ranger for ten years. In my locale I am the hated environmentalist and frankly your approach in addressing this matter I find shameful. And the fact that few of your "solicited" have a full picture of the situation is unfortunate because they can continue to be hoodwinked by selective "truths".

Andrew WetzlerMar 12 2009 10:54 AM


Thank you for your thoughtful post. You packed a lot in here, so let me respond to a couple of things in turn.

First, I obviously don’t agree with you that NRDC’s stance on wolves is “radical.” In fact, as has been well documented by scientists, wolves are a vital part of forest ecosystems. Their reintroduction has had great benefits in the Yellowstone area, renewing riparian stream habitats, increasing rodent and raptor populations, providing a food source for grizzly bears, and increasing pronghorn antelope numbers. Wolves have also brought tens of millions of dollars in tourism revenues to the region.

Second, the management plan for wolves put forth by Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana do not call for managing wolves “with sustainable populations in mind.” They call for managing wolves at population levels that the available science tells us is far below what constitutes a sustainable population. Collectively, Montana’s, Idaho’s, and Wyoming’s wolf management plans could allow as much as two-thirds of the existing wolf population in the northern Rockies to be killed. This is an issue that we have extensively discussed here at Switchboard ( ).

Finally, to answer your question about the photograph, it is a photo of "B160," a male wolf who was poached in the Salmon River Canyon near Clayton, Idaho, in April 2008. Thought to be about six years old and part of the Morgan Creek pack, B160 was found dead about 70 yards from Highway 75. You can find links to the photo at our website ( ).

GordonMar 13 2009 06:08 AM

As an environmentalist who went all out to support Obama, I am extremely disappointed that his administration is apparently embracing the Bush stance on wildlife. I just looked up Salazar on Wikipedia, and he looks like someone BUSH would have appointed as Secretary of the Interior. Just what is going on? Are backroom deals being made to buy conservative support for Obama's economic plan? I feel like we have been doublecrossed.

KimMar 13 2009 08:46 PM

The ties that bind. Why DID Salazar do a reversal?

Randy JohnsonMar 15 2009 12:05 AM

Kim, Salazer didn't do a reversal. The Team Obama just put a hold on all of Bush's decisions. So Salazar looked at the arguements on both sided and decided it was time to fire up the wolf killing. I for one am glad they did the right thing. Living in the Western Great Lakes region the timber wolf is more than established and has a great enough popultation to ensure genetic diversity.

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