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The heart of the wolf recovery problem - Science

Sylvia Fallon

Posted August 16, 2010

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A federal judge recently ruled to return endangered species protections to wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains.  Given that NRDC was one of the plaintiff groups in the lawsuit, we are obviously pleased with the outcome.  The court ruled that the federal government cannot subdivide a population along state lines removing protections in some states (Idaho and Montana) while maintaining protection in another state (Wyoming) because that state is unwilling to develop a management plan that the federal government will approve. 

Now that this legal issue has been addressed, it’s time to get back to the heart of the problem – scientifically defensible recovery standards.  The US Fish and Wildlife Service developed a recovery goal for this region over 20 years ago and if you go back and read the recovery plan you won’t find a single scientific citation supporting their proposed goal of 10 breeding pairs (or approximately 100 wolves) in each of the three states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.  The Service has since spent a lot of time and effort to defend those numbers – including ignoring any scientific opinions that did not agree with them – but the truth is that their recovery goals have never been supported by science – not 20 years ago and certainly not today.

In fact, a recent review article comprehensively surveyed the scientific literature on minimum population size requirements and concluded that “thousands (not hundreds) of individuals are required for a population to have an acceptable probability of riding-out environmental fluctuation and catastrophic events, and ensuring the continuation of evolutionary processes. The evidence is clear.”  The authors go on to point out that management plans calling for only a few hundred individuals are “managing inadvertantly or implicitly for extinction.” 

The descrepancy between the recovery goals (around 300 individuals) and the current population of wolves (around 1,700) is vast – almost as vast as the opinions on either side of the debate around wolves in the Rocky Mountains.  In fact, it’s a large part of what shapes that debate.   Proponents of removing protection from the wolves are constantly pointing out that the recovery goals have been far surpassed.  And opponents point out that (without endangered species protections), there is no enforceable way to prevent the states from reducing their current populations to the bare minimum.

The recovery goals form the basis of the disagreement over wolf recovery.  And the US Fish and Wildlife Service forms the basis of the recovery goals.  Its time for the Service to reclaim their leadership role in wolf recovery  by reassessing and reasserting not only a legally defensible, but a scientifically defensible recovery plan for wolves.  


Image: Sigmaeye shared via Flickr.

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Sophia HaasAug 17 2010 02:47 PM

If only the left hand knew what the right hand was doing..........

MikeAug 20 2010 01:18 AM

The writer of this article may be smug with the dicision ..... but this decision may be the straw that breaks the camels back. Opposition / and resentment grows daily! People from sportsman to pet owners to ranchers to farmers are getting a clear understanding of what is behind all this crap..... This high maintenance non-endangered non-threatened killer has turned people like me (who was at one time all for them returning to the Wisconsin North woods) against them..... Trying to cram the tax sucking monsters down the locals throat has never worked & won't work in the future!

JohnAug 20 2010 03:03 AM

I am very happy with this decision,
even though the judge seemed to take his sweet assed time making it.

While we waited for his decision, he was asked by many citizens and groups to postpone the planned hunts that included literally TENS OF THOUSANDS of hunting permits taken out in IDAHO alone to kill around 300 wolves, talk about bat shit crazy, with an emergency injunction while he was 'forming' his decision which took months. But to no avail, he denied it and the states of Idaho and Montana loaded their guns and emptied their conscious and over 500 innocent wolves lost their lives. They were tracked down, baited, lured and whole families butchered in some of the most remote rugged areas of wilderness. These animals, OUR wildlife the PEOPLE's wildlife, were minding their business, just trying to survive, just like most of us, and they were savagedly cut down by trigger happy, blood thirsty, thrill seeking killers. The wolves never knew what was coming or why. I'm sure they took some good pictures and had lots of laughs and even got a carcass to stuff for their living room. Big tough guys with guns.

Makes you wonder who the real 'monsters' are, huh mike.

Mike SchmalzAug 25 2010 04:44 PM

John, Either you are uninformed or just trying to blow smoke up the butts of the readers....... most of them are educated enough to know that 10s of thousands of licenses sales does not mean obliteration of the species. The same amount of sales last year did not keep the wolf population from increasing. Even with a (higher quota) they will still probably keep increasing! The readers are also probably beginning to understand that this high maintenance animal is one of the most adaptable animals on the planet...... It can live anywhere we let it. The key is "where we let it" On the Montana Fish and game web site it says wolves "under the frequently asked questions" will cost over $900,000 + in Montana alone. I believe that to be a 2005 number which has grown since! It's oddballs like you that want another 10,000 running around the country, when only 500 are costing Montana $900,000 +.

In talking about monsters, the way this animal kills its prey makes a Michael Vick dog fight seem like child's play! 24 x 7 this killer is out horrifying our game herds. Some of the readers are also aware of studies that show this non-endangered, non-threatened assassines are effecting cow elk causing them to abort their fetus's because of the continued presents of wolves.... Some elk herds have fallen off the face of the earth & all for what...... to satisfy an anti-hunting fringe environmental group that has a federal judge in there pocket

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