Politicians crying wolf – Anti-wolfers in Congress served up some dubious assertions this week in a letter sent to U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe, asking him to strip federal protection for gray wolves nationwide. For example, the letter claims that state governments are “…fully qualified to responsibly manage wolf populations…” If that were true, how do they explain killing more than 1,100 wolves within two years of delisting in the Northern Rockies, where populations in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming are all steadily declining? Or how do they explain Wyoming allowing wolves to be treated like unwanted varmints across 85 percent of the state? And how do they explain the fact that Utah’s state policy is to prevent any wolves from ever returning at all? If that’s responsible management in the eyes of wolf opponents, I’d hate to see what irresponsible management would look like.
Here’s another whopper from the letter: “Unmanaged wolves are devastating livestock and indigenous wildlife.” Maybe if you define devastation as losing less than one percent of livestock annually. But if that’s the case, then livestock are devastated way more by bad weather, disease, theft, and other predators than by wolves. (See USDA’s most recent 5-year cattle death loss report.) It’s also clear from scientific research that wolves are helping to restore balance to ecosystems that were sorely lacking a top predator and being heavily overbrowsed by abundant and sedentary elk and deer on the landscape.
But the anti-wolf contingent in Congress and across the country has never cared about facts or science, only politics and fear. Unfortunately, our nation’s endangered species don’t have checkbooks, nor do they get to vote. So it’s up to the rest of us to hold our elected leaders accountable for their half-truths and misinformation. If your congressmen signed the letter in support of delisting, be sure to contact them and ask them to stop perpetuating myths about wolves. For more information, see this press release from the House Natural Resources Committee and coverage in the Deseret News.
Add another anti-wolf bill to the pile — Turns out we were overly optimistic about the Idaho legislature heading home last week. Apparently a few state legislators were happy to stick around so they could introduce a new bill that funnels money from the sale of wolf hunting tags to ranchers that lose livestock to wolves. If House Bill 336 becomes law, that money would go either be given to Wildlife Services to kill more wolves or be turned over to the Idaho Dept. of Agriculture. Even the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is opposing the bill so they don’t lose even more money for their conservation programs. Revenue from hunting tags is supposed to be invested back into wildlife management that benefits all residents, not handed over to individual ranchers for unconfirmed livestock losses. Further, the diversion will likely cost the state federal matching funds that support conservation. If the state is going to divert money anywhere it should be invested in nonlethal tools that will help ranchers coexist with wolves over the long run. Tell Idaho’s legislators to oppose this bill and support nonlethal management practices that promote coexistence.
Meanwhile, Senate Bill 397 is still moving forward in Montana. The bill would expand hunting and trapping of predators, including snaring of wolves, in areas where elk populations are deemed below objective. The traps and predator baits and hound hunting authorized in this bill also threaten grizzly bears, wolverines, and lynx. Our Rocky Mountain Director Mike Leahy testified against the bill this week at a committee hearing as did many hunting conservation groups, but it still passed 6-4 on a party-line vote. There’s still hope that it will be defeated, if not in the state Senate then in the Montana House of Representatives.
A long history – There are few people who know wolves as well as biologist Dave Mech. He wrote the seminal book on wolf biology and behavior in 1970, and was one of the early proponents of restoring wolves to the West. In a commentary on The Wildlife Society News he lays out nearly four decades of wolf conservation efforts, which gave rise to today’s ongoing wolf wars. We don’t agree with everything he has to say – for example, the number of wolves in Canada really has no bearing on how many wolves should be restored to the lower 48 – if that were true, other species like the bald eagle and grizzly bear would never have been recovered in the U.S. But his commentary is a tour de force that should give us all much to think about as we plan for the next four decades of wolf recovery.