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Matt Skoglund’s Blog

2009: The Year in Wolves

Matt Skoglund

Posted December 30, 2009

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2009 was a dismal, tragic year for Northern Rockies wolves. They lost all protections under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), were hunted for the first time in Montana and Idaho (and continue to be hunted in Idaho), and were killed by various causes in record numbers. In all, almost one third -- one third! -- of the Northern Rockies wolf population was killed in 2009.

The good news is that NRDC and other conservation groups have not relented one iota in our fight on behalf on Northern Rockies wolves, and our lawsuit to restore their ESA protections should be ruled upon in 2010.

Here is a recap of 2009 for Canis lupus in the Northern Rockies:

January 14, 2009: Dubya the Decider, wishing to go out with a bang, announced that wolves in Montana and Idaho were being removed from the endangered species list, but wolves in Wyoming would remain listed.

January 20, 2009: Freshly inaugurated President Obama put on hold the wolf delisting rule -- and all other last-minute rules and regulations issued by the Bush administration -- for further review. Hope was restored, as many assumed the Obama Administration, with its pledged commitment to science, would scrap the premature, scientifically baseless, politically motivated Bush rule on wolves.

March 6, 2009: Hope was crushed, as Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced he was rubber-stamping the Bush rule on wolves and removing ESA protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho, but not Wyoming. (Six months later, a federal judge found that this decision was politically crafted and thus likely illegal.)

May 4, 2009: The delisting rule went into effect, and wolves in Montana and Idaho lost all federal protections under the Endangered Species Act.

June 2, 2009: NRDC and twelve other conservation organizations, represented by Earthjustice, filed a lawsuit to restore ESA protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho.

July 8, 2009: The State of Montana approved the state's first-ever fair-chase public wolf hunt with a kill quota of 75 wolves -- or about 15% of its population.

August 17, 2009: Montana's neighbor to the west, Idaho, authorized its first-ever fair-chase public wolf hunt with a kill quota of 255 wolves -- or about 30% of its population. (And neither Montana's nor Idaho's quota included any of the wolves killed by government "control" actions, natural mortality, or illegal poaching.)

August 20, 2009: NRDC and the other conservation groups in the delisting lawsuit filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the planned wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho from proceeding.

September 1, 2009: Idaho's premature wolf hunt opened.

September 8, 2009: U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy denied our motion to stop the wolf hunts in Montana and Idaho, but, on a very bright note, he found that we are likely to win our delisting lawsuit. Specifically, he concluded, "The [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] Service has distinguished a natural population of wolves based on a political line, not the best available science. That, by definition, seems arbitrary and capricious."

September 15, 2009: Montana's poorly planned wolf hunt opened only in the backcountry, with the rest of the state scheduled to open on October 25th. The result? Multiple wilderness wolves and wolves from Yellowstone National Park were quickly killed, which the state must have seen coming with the way it structured the hunt.

October 13, 2009: With too many wolves from Yellowstone killed just outside the Park's boundary (because Montana failed to implement a buffer zone around the Park to protect its famous and important wolves), Montana shut down the wolf hunt north of Yellowstone.

November 16, 2009: Montana's wolf hunt ends, with 72 wolves killed in the hunt.

December 2009: Two ominous reports about wolves in the Northern Rockies surfaced. The first described how Yellowstone's wolf population is shrinking and the annual census of the Park's population is expected to be the lowest in 10 years. The second broke the worrying news that a record number of Northern Rockies wolves -- more than 500 -- have been killed in 2009 by hunters, government agents, ranchers, poachers, and natural causes. This astronomical level of mortality amounts to almost one third of the last official population estimate.

December 24, 2009: Lynne Stone, a fearless wolf advocate in Idaho, received a scary, threatening e-mail from a wolf hater there. The e-mail simply said, "Merry Cristmas" (spelled without the "h"), and it included a morbid photo:

Heading into 2010, this disturbing photo and sinister e-mail (sent the night of Christmas Eve) remind us of what wolves are up against in the West -- and why NRDC's work on behalf of Northern Rockies wolves is more important than ever.

On January 28, 2010, the last brief in our wolf lawsuit will be filed. Following a hearing in federal court, Judge Molloy will decide whether the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act when it removed ESA protections from wolves in Montana and Idaho earlier this year. Hopefully he concludes that the ESA was violated and restores ESA protections for those states' wolves.

After a deadly 2009, let's hope 2010 is a better year for wolves in the Northern Rockies -- with less killing, less spinning of the facts by government bureaucrats, and less politically driven decision-making. Let's hope wolves . . . can be wolves.

Happy New Year. Howl.

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Mike GwaltneyDec 31 2009 01:31 PM

Thanks to you, Matt, and to the NRDC for all the good work you are doing on behalf of the wolves. Keep it up. Let's hope 2010 is better.

joe robinsonJan 3 2010 06:29 PM

i will preface these comments by saying i don't want all the wolves dead,gone,killed
or slaughtered.
i'm blessed to be born and raised in a piece of the world that is still
wild enough to support the populations of grizzly and wolf.
that said i want to express my opinion that the misinformation being passed about the wolf is coming from both sides.
they do kill much more than they eat.example;
i have seen it with my own eyes,i have found instances where 5 wolves have killed up to 6 cow elk during one of "their" hunts and consumed less than 30 lbs of flesh from all 6 cow elk not including the fetus.(which seemed to be the targeted each of the cows were missing this portion collectively)
and elk numbers overall in montana and wyoming are doing well and even expanding
in areas,but not in the same wilderness areas that surround YNP where wolves have the strongest foothold.
i spend 125+ days afield each year and have for the past 20 yrs,i have seen with my own eyes the impact that wolves are having on OUR
elk numbers in the absorka range of montana and wyoming are a fraction of what they were in 1995.
my fear is the impact this population crash will have on other species including the grizzly.
these bear numbers are artifically high due to the easy pickings the wolves have left behind and the cub survival rates will crash also in the coming years due to poorer overall condition of the sows going into hibernation.
these bears will adapt to the changes in their food sorces as proved in GNP,but their overall numbers are going to take quite a dive in the years to come.
the science is there to provide a stable enviroment for the wolf,but that same science MUST be evaluated with the brain and leave the heart out of the equation.
to protect one species at the cost of and decimation of another will have far more impact on the ecosystem and still leaves all of us here in the rocky mountains with less
not more of what we are striving for,a complete and balanced circle of life.

Janet BarwickJan 6 2010 01:09 PM


Thank you for your comment. In reading your statements, however, I can't help but see the emotion and heart that you hope to be left out of the argument. The statement that wolves kill far more animals than they eat is an emotionally charge one that is thrown up time and again to create misundertanding and hatred torward these animals. While it's true that wolves will kill more than they eat (sometimes), one must remember that these carcasses left over WILL be utilized by a whole host of scavengers--from birds to grizzlies. More importantly, these wolf kills are providing a very important food source for grizzlies who, without whitebark pine seeds and cutthroat trout, are finding it more difficult to survive. You state that grizzly populations will crash without strong elk populations, but it has really been the wolf that has served up a steady source of elk meat to grizzlies (who rarely hunt full-grown elk).

Wildlife populations are ever-changing. There is an ebb and flow--increases and decreases. Elk population decreases are often followed by collapses in wolf populations--in fact, we are seeing this predator/prey dynamic happening in Yellowstone right now. This would explain how these populations co-evolved for thousands of years. Mother nature is always self-regulating.

BTW, there is another species that kills for fun and kills more than it can eat too! Can you guess what species that is?

Stanley BlouchJan 10 2010 09:39 AM

I have a hard time trying to understand how we as humans can justify killing the wolf for killing livestock, when we raise livestock to kill and eat.The wolf was on that land and coexsisted with the true American the Native American.They held the with the highest respect and considered them wolf as brothers.We took the land and developed it and turned the land into ranches put up fences the wolf had no choise but to kill livestock to survive.Why do we have such a problem trying to coexsist with wildlife we forced to do what ever they have to do to survive?

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