Wolf population grows; may be taken off endangered list

We will probably be in for another battle over the status of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, as officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are broaching the possibility of removing gray wolves from the national endangered list.

Indeed, a cursory look at the numbers would seem to argue that the gray wolf has made an amazing comeback in the greater Rocky Mountain region. In 1995, 66 wolves were transplanted from Canada into Yellowstone National Park. Now, after decades of activism and $24 million in federal funds, an estimated 1,545 wolves roam in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho — and that number is leading some to argue that the gray wolf doesn’t merit further protections.

“The more of something you have, the less valuable each individual piece becomes,” said Ed Bangs, the Fish and Wildlife Service’s wolf recovery project leader, in an AP interview. “If you have more wolves than you have now, it’s really going to start causing a lot of problems.”

Those problems already exist, say ranchers and cattlemen in the region; they want more than just the ability to kill wolves preying on their herds — they want to see wolves trapped and killed en masse.. It’s highly unlikely the general public really wants a return to policies that eradicated the wolf from the Yellowstone ecosystem in the first place, and some say the problem isn’t as widespread as ranchers would have us believe: 330 cattle, sheep and domestic animals were killed by wolves in the last year.

Environmentalists argue 2,000 or more gray wolves are needed before protections should be lifted.

“This is all about wolf-killing,” said Doug Honnold, an attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, in an AP article. “This approach of managing wolves to the knife edge where they say the population would be at risk of extinction is simply crazy.”

A proposal from Bangs and the Fish and Wildlife Service would allow ranchers and trappers to obtain permits to kill wolves. Protections would kick in if wolf populations decreased to fewer than 450 wolves in the region; if the number goes down to 300 the species would be reinstated to the protected list.

If the plan is enacted, you can expect lawsuits from environmental groups.

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