Now that wolves are delisted in the Northern Rockies, what is Defenders of Wildlife going to do?
First, Defenders will continue to make wolf conservation a top priority. They are an important part of this nation’s wildlife heritage and help shape the landscape for the benefit of people and other species. The American people fought long and hard and spent considerable money to bring them back on the landscape after centuries of persecution and killing. Wolves have literally paid society back with millions spent each year on wildlife viewing and related tourism—an estimated $35 million in Yellowstone alone, double that once the money filters through the local economy. And we’re not about to let the situation slide back to the past as many anti-wolf extremists would like.
The Way Forward
Our overarching goal is to work with our allies to maintain healthy, sustainable wolf populations across the Northern Rockies. In order to achieve that goal, we’ve identified four areas that will be critical to wolf conservation as we move forward.
Defenders’ primary concern with the recent legislation to strip federal protections for wolves was that it undermined the scientific principles of wildlife conservation. Above all else, we must restore science as the focal point for all decision-making regarding wolf management. Politics should never trump sound science when it comes to protecting America’s wildlife and natural heritage.
We will work with all stakeholders to make sure they are using the best available science to inform management decisions. This includes relying on the latest research and top scientific experts to:
- Ensure sufficient genetic exchange between subregions
- Implement robust wolf population monitoring from year to year
- Determine the true impacts that wolves have on game species such as deer and elk
In addition, we will continue to push state and federal wildlife agencies to convene a scientific panel of experts to review state management objectives.
Through our Wolf Coexistence Partnership, Defenders has been a pioneer in finding ways for people, livestock and wildlife to coexist. Working with ranchers, we have helped develop and implement nonlethal deterrents and other techniques for minimizing conflict between wolves and livestock.
Promoting coexistence will continue to be a major focus of our work throughout the region. We have already expanded our efforts beyond Idaho and Montana into parts of Oregon and Washington, where wolves are just starting to return. It’s essential that we continue to work proactively with farmers and ranchers, who are working in wolf country where potential conflict is most likely to arise.
As outlined above, we’ll be working hard to make sure that sound science informs important decisions regarding wolf management. A key part of that will be holding state and federal wildlife managers accountable for meeting their responsibilities to maintain healthy wolf populations. We will closely monitor state and federal agencies as well as state legislatures to promote positive efforts that support continued wolf recovery while opposing any changes that will put wolves in jeopardy.
In particular, we will push for reform of USDA’s Wildlife Services that handles almost all of the wolf control in the region. This federal agency has taken a heavy-handed approach for far too long. Instead, the agency should be helping to promote nonlethal deterrents and encourage tolerance. Wildlife Services has an important role to play in educating ranchers about alternative methods of reducing conflict. Killing wolves should always be the very last resort, not the default first choice.
Wolves are an important part of this nation’s wildlife heritage and help shape the landscape for the benefit of people and other species.
In the last few years, animosity in the region has grown unnecessarily as anti-wolf extremists have fanned the flames of fear and hate with misinformation and undocumented claims. Now we must redouble our efforts to communicate the benefits of wolf conservation to people from all walks of life. Defenders and its conservation allies will endeavor to grow our base of support to include those in the ranching and hunting communities who see the real value in restoring balance to the landscape and keeping wildness in the West. We will also help amplify the voices of religious organizations, tribal groups, small businesses and others that support wolf conservation.
What you can do
In the coming months and years, we will need your support in each one of these areas to fight back against the tide of wolf haters. You can help us call out extremists in the media who distort the truth about wolves and you can help us keep up the pressure on wildlife agencies and elected officials to protect America’s investment in wolf conservation. The return of the gray wolf has been an incredible Endangered Species Act success story, but we need all our supporters to continue standing up for wolves to make sure it stays that way.