USFWS PROPOSES DROPPING GRAY WOLF PROTECTIONS
Doug Honnold, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund (406) 586-9699
Today, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service proposes to reclassify, delist wolves in much of the United States.
The U.S. FISH & WILDLIFE SERVICE PROPOSAL WOULD:
Reclassify from endangered to threatened (except where already classified as an experimental population):
Western Great Lakes Population (MN, MI, WI, ND, SD)
Western Population (WA, OR, MT, WY, ID, CO, UT, AZ, NM)
Northeastern Population (ME, NY, VT, NH)
Retain endangered status:
Southwestern Population (AZ, NM, TX)
Elsewhere: Gray wolves will be removed from the protections of the Endangered Species Act in all other areas of the United States.
THE GOVERNMENT'S JUSTIFICATION FOR THE PROPOSAL:
Increases in gray wolf numbers, expansion of the occupied range of gray wolves, progress toward achieving the targets in several government approved gray wolf recovery plans merit delisting.
PROBLEMS WITH THE GOVERNMENT'S PROPOSAL:
FWS believes that there is no conclusive evidence that gray wolves currently inhabit the northeastern United States. A single female wolf was killed in western Maine in 1993, and in 1996 a possible wolf was trapped and killed in central Maine.
With no increase in gray wolf numbers, no expansion of occupied range, and no progress toward achieving recovery targets in New England, there is no justification for weakening protections for wolves in this area.
WESTERN GREAT LAKES POPULATION:
FWS estimates that there are currently roughly 2,400 wolves in Minnesota , and an additional 400 in Michigan and Wisconsin. Aside from the data from Wisconsin, which is largely based upon radio-collared wolves, these population estimates are rough estimates.
The key question in the Great Lakes Population is what protective laws will replace the Endangered Species Act when wolves are removed from the list of endangered species. A state law passed this spring in Minnesota would provide for a $150 bounty for killing wolves.
In northwestern Montana, a naturally occurring population declined from a high of 7 packs and roughly 70 wolves in the fall of 1996 to 5 packs in 1997, 1998, and 1999 due to conflicts between wolves and livestock.
In Yellowstone, reintroduced wolves flourished until the summer of 1999. After reaching a high of 9 packs in 1997, the number of documented packs dropped to 6 in 1998 and 8 in 1999. In addition, of the 64 wolf pups born in the spring of 1999, only 26 were known to have survived until the fall of 1999, with Parvovirus playing a possible role in reducing pup survival. When added with the nearly 20 adult wolves that died during the year, the Yellowstone population estimate in the fall of 1999 was nearly the same as the population estimate for the fall of 1998.
In Idaho, the reintroduced wolves have mingled with a few wolves that have migrated from northwestern Montana. The documented wolf population in Idaho climbed as high at 9 packs and an estimated 141 wolves in the fall of 1999. Since that time, however, three Idaho wolf packs have been eliminated by federal agents due to wolf/livestock conflicts.
In none of the three areas identified by Fish and Wildlife Service as wolf recovery zones in the northern Rockies have wolves managed to achieve the recovery targets for reclassification to threatened status established by FWS. Those targets require that at least 2 of the 3 subpopulations sustain a population of at least 10 packs for three consecutive years before gray wolves in northern Rockies are reclassified from their current endangered status to threatened status. In fact, over the past three years, only the Idaho population has yet to achieve the FWS target of 10 packs, and the population reached that target for only one year, 1998. The objective of having wolves traveling successfully between these three populations has not been achieved.
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