All that could be in jeopardy if the plans to dramatically reduce wolf populations come to fruition. According to an annual report produced by the Yellowstone Wolf Project, four of the park’s wolves were killed in Montana and Idaho during the 2019 hunting season when they wandered outside park boundaries. With the park’s population hovering around 100, even relatively small numbers of wolf fatalities could have destabilizing effects.
Killing one wolf may decrease the chances of its pack members surviving, especially since hunting during breeding season is now allowed, making it likely that litters will be orphaned. And, ironically, destabilized wolf packs are more likely to target livestock according to some studies. Removing dominant wolves allows for breeding by subdominant pairs that may turn to livestock as easy prey.
Advocates hope to counter the legislation before its full impacts are felt. In May, the Center for Biological Diversity and its partners sent a petition to the Secretary of the Interior and the Fish and Wildlife Service demanding that the Northern Rocky Mountain population of the gray wolf be relisted as threatened or endangered. They also informed the Fish and Wildlife Service that Idaho and Montana should no longer be eligible for funding under the Pittman-Robertson Act, which directs millions of dollars in federal funds to state-level wildlife management.
“That statute states that if they do anything contrary to the conservation purposes of the act, they would not be eligible for funding,” said Zaccardi, who is working on the campaign.
The developments in Idaho and Montana come on the heels of another, equally devastating decision. In November 2020, the Trump administration removed endangered species protections for the Great Lakes population of wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
An aggressive legal campaign by a hunting group resulted in a state-mandated wolf hunt in Wisconsin this February. The hunt wiped out a fifth of the state’s wolf population in a matter of days, killing nearly 100 more wolves than the quota the state set.
A lawsuit filed by a coalition of advocacy organizations in January seeks to have protections reinstated. Kristen Boyles, an attorney with Earthjustice, said she hopes the case will be heard in the fall. In the meantime, she and her colleagues are fending off attempts by the National Rifle Association and the Safari Club to have the suit dismissed.
Some 1.8 million comments on the Great Lakes delisting decision underscore public opposition. The majority of Idaho residents who commented on their states’ new laws were against them as well. A public comment forum on the Montana legislation is slated for June 30.
“We have to listen to our citizens who say ‘we value them intrinsically.’ They have a right to live beyond their use to anybody else,” said Lute. The fate of the species once again hinges on the strength of this belief.
Richard Pallardy is a Chicago-based writer who has written for such publications as Discover, Vice, and Science Magazine.
What else do you expect ?