Wolves in Yellowstone: Current Topics

 Wolves Leave Endangered Species List 

A current controversy involving wolves is their delisting as an endangered species in the reintroduction areas of Yellowstone and Central Idaho. The officially adopted recovery plan stipulated that when the reintroduction locations reached at least 10 wolf packs of at least 10 members, the wolf would be down-listed from endangered species and potentially regulated hunting of wolves would be permitted. Management of wolves under this arrangement is now handled by the individual states, following approval of management plans by the federal government.

Since the re-introduction programs were highly successful and wolf populations handily exceeded the targets by 2002, and now there are over 1500 wolves in the Northern Rockies. The machinery for de-listing and state management was set in motion several years ago. Montana and Idaho have submitted Wolf Management Plans that have been accepted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, however, Wyoming’s plan, which proposes a trophy hunting area around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and predator status elsewhere (i.e. shoot on sight), has been rejected several times and was involved in a series of acrimonious debates and a federal court case. Until recently the USFWS held the position that wolves will not be de-listed until all three states have an accepted plan. However, in February of 2007 the USFWS indicated that it would delist the wolf in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. This was formalized and put into effect in March of 2008.

Meanwhile, conservation groups have strongly opposed portions of the states’ plans, or more often, the entire notion of delisting the wolf. They argue that the wolf is nowhere near its original range (about 5% of it) and should be protected as it continues to gain more of its old territory. Another argument is that nobody knows definitively what a ‘balanced wolf population’ is for any given area and that the ’10 packs, 100 wolves’ formulation is not based on complete scientific knowledge. Even in Yellowstone, the most heavily studied of the wolf reintroduction areas, the complexity of determining how many wolf packs will sustain the wolf population relative to a desirable number of their prey (especially elk, moose, and bison) is still an open question.

As was often the case in the previous Wolf Wars, the situation is highly polarized. The governor of Idaho has publicly stated that “I’m prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf myself.” with the intent to reduce the wolf population from its current level of about 650 to the 100 stipulated as the minimum level for endangerment status. Wyoming’s approach, if anything, is even more vindictive. 

Yellowstone Insider will continually post updated information on the WOLF DELISTING CONTROVERSY.      


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