Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission announced on Friday that it is unlikely to reinstate wolf hunting and trapping closures near Yellowstone National Park. The Commission was supposed to revisit their December decision during a teleconference on Jan. 29, but said they “have simply run out of time.”
The closures were initially instated following the killing of several wolves that spent much of their time inside the park. Though killed legally by hunters outside the park, at least five of the wolves wore tracking collars that allowed researchers to monitor their behavior and study interactions with prey species. A few of the wolves were among some of the most famous wolves in the world, including the alpha female of the highly visible Lamar Canyon pack.
Yellowstone wolves have proven to be extremely valuable to researchers as well as the local economy. That’s why Montana wildlife officials took action to protect these iconic and important animals. However, the closures were challenged by anti-wolf groups who believe hunters and trappers should be allowed to continue killing wolves just outside of Yellowstone. Based on a legal technicality, wolf opponents were able to convince a Montana judge to halt the closures, keeping the zones open to hunting and trapping until the case could be heard in court.
The Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission was planning to revisit their decision and potentially reinstate the closures this week, but now the state commissioners are also facing intense opposition from the Montana legislature. A bill that’s been recently introduced would prevent the commission from closing any areas next to any national parks to wolf hunting or trapping. Once again, politicians are trying to take control of wildlife management rather than allowing professional biologists to do their job.
Unfortunately, the statewide wolf hunting and trapping season will now simply close on February 28 as originally planned, without any protections in place for wolves near Yellowstone National Park. We are very disappointed, but are encouraged by the fact that the Commission heard from many Montanans that Yellowstone wolves are too important to manage recklessly. With the strong support Defenders members and other Montanans showed for the Commission’s efforts to protect Yellowstone wolves, hopefully they will put wolf hunting and trapping closures in effect again next year – if the Montana legislature and Governor let them.
In the meantime, we continue to fight the poor decisions and irresponsible practices that affect wolves throughout the Northern Rockies, which have faced incredible adversity since they were congressionally delisted in 2011. That decision – motivated more by politics than science – paved the way for aggressive wolf management policies. Any day now, we will pass the sad milestone of 1,000 wolves in the region killed by hunting and trapping since the delisting. This accelerated killing demonstrates how states like Wyoming are managing wolves as vermin to be eliminated, not as wildlife to be managed responsibly.
We are working hard on the ground and in the courts to get wolves the protection they deserve. Your help makes all the difference in the world. Thank you for working with us to speak up for wolves and all wildlife.
Red wolves like this one and coyotes are difficult to tell apart, even in daylight. Interbreeding with coyotes is also a threat to this species.
The red wolf is a normally a secretive animal that avoids humans, waiting for nightfall to hunt and socialize. But in North Carolina, these endangered creatures can no longer find safety under the cover of darkness. The North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission recently approved a temporary rule allowing night hunting of coyotes with spotlights, putting the rare wolves at risk of being accidentally shot.
Defenders of Wildlife, along with the Animal Welfare Institute and the Red Wolf Coalition, has filed a court challenge against the NC Wildlife Resource Commission and a request to stop this rule. Not only does the rule threaten an endangered species, but the NC Wildlife Resource Commission also adopted it illegally, via a temporary rulemaking procedure that violates state law.
Red wolves and coyotes are easy to confuse even in daylight because they are similar in both in color and physical appearance, and adolescent wolves are similar to adult coyotes in size. At night, it’s even more difficult to tell the difference (click here to see the two species side by side).
The rule is catastrophic for several reasons. This species was once extinct in the wild, and slowly began to recover after captive wolves were reintroduced into the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. However, there are still only about 100 wild red wolves in the wild. With such a small population, each individual is vital to the survival of the species. But every year, about 7-9 percent of red wolves are killed by North Carolina hunters, a number that will almost certainly increase with night hunting.
Red wolves are also threatened by interbreeding with coyotes. To prevent this, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sterilizes coyotes that live in red wolf habitat. But shooting sterilized coyotes allows fertile coyotes from other areas to move in and interbreed with wolves.
There are only about 100 red wolves left in the wild, and all of them live in the state of North Carolina.
Presently, the red wolf only exists in the state of North Carolina, and with a population so small and fragile, an increase in red wolf shooting deaths and interbreeding with coyotes could mean they’ll never recover.
Defenders is committed to fighting this rule and protecting these rare and beautiful animals. Look out for updates as we continue our mission to keep red wolves alive and thriving.
Click here to learn more about the night hunting rule in North Carolina and the challenge filed against it.
(Scene: hiker spots something in the woods at Alligator National Wildlife Refuge, North Carolina)
“What was that? It looked like a wolf! Must have been a coyote… Wolves aren’t found in this part of the country, right?”
Oh, but they are!
The endangered red wolf (cousin to the gray wolf out West) roams the wilds of northeastern North Carolina. Historically, red wolves ranged throughout the southeastern U.S. from Pennsylvania to Florida and as far west as Texas. But by 1980, the red wolf was virtually extinct in the wild because of habitat destruction and extermination. Now, thanks to captive breeding programs and reintroduction to a restoration area in North Carolina, red wolves number over one hundred.
Red wolves look like delicate versions of gray wolves, except with longer muzzles, larger ears, and fur tinged reddish brown in some spots. Like grays, they live in packs and are most active at night – that’s when they howl. The Alligator River NWR actually offers ‘howling safaris’, where you can visit the refuge at night and experience the thrill of hearing red wolves communicating with each other.
What Defenders Is Doing
Red wolves resemble coyotes, which unfortunately leads to many mistaken identity deaths caused by humans. To reduce the confusion, Defenders partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Red Wolf Recovery Team and the Red Wolf Coalition to produce a red wolf education guide for hunters.
Defenders is exploring the economic and environmental benefits of red wolves, in order to inform policy makers and landowners. Our latest report discusses the receptivity of landowners towards payment in exchange for conservation practices.