Wild Saturday 2-23-08

Wolves and mushheads.

When it comes to delisting of the gray wolves, I fall on the mushhead side.

On Thursday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced gray wolves in the Northern Rockies will be removed from the list of threatened and endangered species.

I should trust science on this and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service scientists think the wolf population has more than recovered in the included area: all of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon, and a bit of north-central Utah.

Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett said,

The wolf population in the Northern Rockies has far exceeded its recovery goal and continues to expand its size and range. States, tribes, conservation groups, federal agencies and citizens of both regions can be proud of their roles in this remarkable conservation success story.

Scarlett noted there is more “than 1,500 wolves and at least 100 breeding pairs in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming.”

My mushhead side is that wolves are such a symbol of things wild and free that I want to romanticize them. And I have a profound loss of respect, make that mistrust, for science coming from the EPA and USFWS under the current administration.

It should be a good sign, a perfect indication of recovery, when hunting of wolves again is possible in the Northern Rockies.

And wolf hunting is coming.

Even before wolves were officially delisted Thursday, The Outdoor Pressroom posted a story from the Missoulian that Montana plans the first formal hunting season later this year.

My favorite quote in the story came from Ed Bangs, wolf recovery coordinator for USFWS.

The service, when we began the reintroduction in 1994, strongly recommended that the public hunting of wolves be included as a management tool. The state went through a long process of thinking about that, and I’m pleased to see they’re doing it. It’s time. It’s past time, and the sooner we just start treating wolves like any other animal – mountain lions, black bears, deer or elk – the better it will be for everyone, including the wolves.

He’s probably right on that.

But all the same, I won’t be too sad to see the delisting tied up in court for few more years to make sure. And that’s going to happen.

The Sierra Club and other groups will challenge the decision in court.

Sierra Club representative Melanie Stein. said,

The decision to remove protections for wolves is premature. We still have a long way to go before wolf populations are sustainable over the long term. This is like declaring victory at mile eighteen in a marathon.

Complete press releases from USFWS and the Sierra Club are below.

From USFWS

The gray wolf population in the Northern Rocky Mountains is thriving and no longer requires the protection of the Endangered Species Act, Deputy Secretary of the Interior Lynn Scarlett announced today. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will remove the species from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. The wolf population in the Northern Rockies has far exceeded its recovery goal and continues to expand its size and range. States, tribes, conservation groups, federal agencies and citizens of both regions can be proud of their roles in this remarkable conservation success story, said Scarlett, noting that there are currently more than 1,500 wolves and at least 100 breeding pairs in Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Service-approved state management plans will provide a secure future for the wolf population once Endangered Species Act protections are removed and the states assume full management of wolf populations within their borders. The northern Rocky Mountain DPS includes all of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, as well as the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon, and a small part of north-central Utah. With hundreds of trained professional managers, educators, wardens and biologists, state wildlife agencies have strong working relationships with local landowners and the ability to manage wolves for the long-term, said Lyle Laverty, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks. Were confident the wolf has a secure future in the northern Rocky Mountains and look forward to continuing to work closely with the states as we monitor the wolf population for the next five years. The minimum recovery goal for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains was set at a minimum of 30 breeding pairs (a breeding pair represents a successfully reproducing wolf pack) and a minimum of 300 individual wolves for at least three consecutive years. This goal was achieved in 2002, and the wolf population has expanded in size and range every year since. These wolves have shown an impressive ability to breed and expand they just needed an opportunity to establish themselves in the Rockies. The Service and its partners provided that opportunity, and now its time to integrate wolves into the states overall wildlife management efforts, said Service Director H. Dale Hall. Gray wolves were previously listed as endangered in the lower 48 states, except in Minnesota, where they were listed as threatened. The wolf population in the western Great Lakes was delisted in early 2007. When the delisting of the Rocky Mountain population takes effect 30 days from its publication in the Federal Register on February 27th, the Service will oversee the only remaining gray wolf recovery program, for the southwestern U.S. wolf population. The delisting announced today affects only the northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves. Gray wolves found outside of the Rocky Mountain and Midwest recovery areas, including the southwest wolf population, remain protected under the Endangered Species Act and are not affected by actions taken today. For more information on northern Rocky Mountain gray wolves, visit www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/mammals/wolf/ The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

From the Sierra Club:

Rocky Mountain Wolves Lose Critical Protection

Removal from Endangered Species List Is Premature

Today, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it will remove Northern Rocky gray wolves from the Endangered Species list. Though wolves once roamed from central Mexico to the Arctic, by the 1930s, they had virtually disappeared from the area. Wolves were reintroduced into the region in 1995. Thanks to protection under the Endangered Species Act, they’ve begun to rebound, but they have not yet made a sound enough recovery to warrant delisting.

“The decision to remove protections for wolves is premature. We still have a long way to go before wolf populations are sustainable over the long term. This is like declaring victory at mile eighteen in a marathon,” said Sierra Club representative Melanie Stein.

Recent studies have shown that the long-term viability of the Northern Rockies wolf population is still in jeopardy. There is almost no genetic mixing between the three subpopulations of wolves in the region. Without genetic interchange between the populations, wolves will be forced to inbreed, compromising the health and viability of the population.

“The wolves in and around Yellowstone are almost completely isolated from other wolves,” Stein said. “In order for wolves to survive over the long haul, there must be interchange between wolves in Central Idaho, Montana and the Greater Yellowstone Area.”

In addition, the wolf management plans for the states of Wyoming, Idaho and Montana call for aggressive removal of wolves, including by shooting them from the air. These aggressive wolf killing practices, coupled with genetic isolation and premature removal of protections, could push wolf numbers dangerously low and reverse decades of recovery work.

“We’ve worked hard to bring wolves back from the brink of extinction,” Stein said. “Tourists from around the world come to the Yellowstone area to see our wolves. Wolves are an important part of the natural balance in the Rockies. They’re a symbol of America’s wild legacy, and we can’t afford to lose them again.”

The Sierra Club, along with other conservation groups, plans to challenge the wolf delisting decision in court.

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