“The Wolf — revered, feared, misunderstood, iconic figure of mystery, ultimate survivor. As wolf populations continue to grow and reclaim portions of their historic range in many parts of the world, key questions about our role in their future must be answered. How might we respond to increasing contacts with wolves? Given the historic and current polarizing atmosphere, how can we educate and dialogue with each other about our values and their role in the wolf’s future? What new information about wolf ecology, behavior and management can help guide us in making sound decisions?”
– International Wolf Symposium 2013
Last weekend, educators, wolf enthusiasts and conservation professionals from around the world came together to learn and respond to the “evolving social and biological realities of wolves and humans at the crossroads.” Attendees included top researchers from Canada, Italy, Sweden, Norway, Poland, Spain, Portugal, India, Mongolia, Turkey, and Russia. Defenders President Jamie Rappaport Clark led with a keynote speech on the importance of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the current proposal to remove federal protections from most gray wolves in the lower 48 states:
“This is a move which I believe is terribly premature and ill-advised, especially given there are significant areas of unoccupied suitable wolf habitat in Colorado, Utah, California and western Oregon and Washington. Unfortunately, the original vision of full gray wolf recovery in suitable habitat throughout the lower 48 has now been abandoned by the Service. It has been replaced with a shrunken, half loaf vision for recovery that is at best middling, and viewed by the agency as ‘good enough’. This is a far cry from the high bar set by the Service in defining full federal recovery for wolves in the Western Great Lakes, and it is an ominous low-bar precedent for future attempted delistings of other species under the Act.”
Mike Phillips, state senator of Montana and director of the Turner Endangered Species Foundation, debated Ed Bangs, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service western wolf coordinator, on the restoration of wolves to places like Colorado. While Mr. Bangs claimed that wolves should be delisted from ESA protection and that there were no more suitable places for wolves in the West, Mr. Phillips countered that Colorado could hold a “megaload” of wolves and offers the best suitable habitat for wolves in the West, yet there are no known wolf packs there today.
In another debate on the issue of hunting wolves, Dr. Paul Paquet gave an eloquent and heartfelt speech in defense of wolves:
“With notable exceptions such as parks, the management philosophy and policies of most government agencies are narrowly directed towards treating wolves as a ‘resource’ to kill. Most government agencies have adopted policies skewed towards preserving opportunities for recreational killing rather than conservation or preservation of ecological integrity. Ignoring biology and the intrinsic value of species, wildlife agencies have resolutely judged wolves as animals in need of management, adopting policies that treat them as a problem, rather than as respected members of the biological community.”
Additionally, I gave a presentation on Defenders’ Wood River Wolf Project: Nonlethal Methods to Resolve Wolf and Livestock Conflicts. The meeting room was packed, and attendees asked a lot of great questions, most adding their appreciation of the work that we are pioneering on the ground. Of the nearly 100,000 total sheep protected in our project area in the last six years, fewer than 30 have been killed by wolves, and no wolves have been killed due to livestock conflicts. Benefits of the project also include reduced social conflict and management costs and increased wolf pack stability, which in turn supports greater ecological function.
Perhaps the highlight of the event was seeing Carter Niemeyer awarded for his work to help wolves with his book “Wolfer” and more than 25 years in wolf management in the west. Carter has been a long term project mentor and friend and it was wonderful to see him gain deserved recognition for his work. He was awarded the International Wolf Center’s Who Speaks for Wolf plaque. This award is given each year to a person outside the organization who has made exceptional contributions to wolf education, both by teaching people how the wolf lives and by placing the wolf in the broader context of humankind’s relationship to nature. Congratulations, Carter. We appreciate your wonderful efforts on behalf of our four-legged friends.
People from all over the world are beginning to unite in common efforts to help protect wolves as one of the most important apex predators in the northern hemisphere. We have much to learn from each other’s challenges. All in all, the symposium was a wonderful opportunity to meet with old friends, make new ones and continue to build greater support for our common mission: restoring wolves.
Suzanne Stone is Defenders’ Northern Rockies Representative