Wolf hunt quotas in the Rocky Mountains - let's do the math
Posted August 20, 2009 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places
Those of you who have been following the situation with wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains know that NRDC, along with a coalition of groups, has sued the US Fish and Wildlife Service over their flawed plan to remove endangered species protections from this population of wolves. You may also know that we were waiting for the states to announce their wolf hunting plans before deciding whether to also request a preliminary injunction in the case - which, if successful, would reinstate protections while the lengthy lawsuit progresses.
Last month, Montana announced their plan to set a wolf hunt quota at 75 wolves and earlier this week Idaho set their quota at 220 wolves. These numbers have been getting a mixed reaction from the various constituencies involved in wolf management from outrage over too few wolves being hunted to outrage over too many wolves being hunted.
Here are a few points that we'd like to make:
1. Idaho plans to eliminate many more wolves than their 220 hunting quota. At the meeting on Monday, the Idaho commissioners acknowledged publicly that the 220 quota would make them look conservative for the lawsuit, but that they would additionally employ other "tools" to remove wolves such as calling on Wildlife Services to eliminate particular packs of "problem wolves" and they reaffirmed a resolution that identifies the state population target at 518 wolves - nearly half of Idaho's current numbers.
2. No state or federal law prohibits either state from reducing its total population of wolves to around 100 wolves. This has been the issue all along. The decades-old recovery goals for the NRM wolves were too low and do not reflect current science - and as long as the only enforceable limit on wolf numbers is this low, wolves will continue to be in danger of nearing extinction in this area again.
3. Any reduction of wolves in this population will only further isolate the wolves in Yellowstone National Park. The wolves in Wyoming are, for now, continuing to receive protection under the endangered species act because the state was unable to come up with a management plan that was acceptable even to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. However, state management is not the only threat to wolves in Wyoming. Geographically, wolves in the Yellowstone area are the most isolated in the Rocky Mountains and few wolves are able to successfully disperse there from the surrounding area. This fact is not disputed by US Fish and Wildlife Service and was a central issue in last year's injunction decision. Despite protections being maintained in Wyoming, the reduction of wolves in Idaho and Montana will only further reduce the number of potential dispersers to Wyoming creating a small, isolated population that is at a greater risk of local demise due to, for example, disease or genetic problems resulting from inbreeding.
4. The Service has given up on the idea of recovering a naturally self-sustaining population of wolves. Rather than addressing the isolation of the Yellowstone-area wolves in any meaningful way, the Service has instead expressed their commitment to manipulating the population in perpetuity through translocations or - since they don't think translocations are likely to work - artificial insemination or cross fostering of pups. We fundamentally disagree that this constitutes 'recovery' of an endangered species.
And so, the answer is yes, we will be seeking an injunction to protect these wolves from state plans to reverse the progress that has been made toward wolf recovery in the Rocky Mountains. Although the plans - both federal and state - are slightly different than last year, the underlying issues are still the same. And when the goal is recovering a self-sustaining, population of wolves with long-term survival - these plans just don't add up.