Wolves need robust populations and safe connecting wildlife corridors in order to recover fully as a species. While the Endangered Species Act requires a species to be well-distributed throughout its former range, wolves today only live in 10% of their historic habitat and safe corridors are nonexistent.
Wolves in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and parts of Washington, Oregon, and Utah have already been removed (delisted) from the endangered species list. The decision to delist wolves is entirely political and not science-based. When delisting occurs, individual states can authorize trophy hunts as a form of “wolf management”. The goal is to reduce a once healthy wolf population to a bare minimum, putting their future at risk.
In recent years, the Trump administration, some lawmakers and special interests have all pushed to remove endangered species protections from wolves all across the country. If that happens, wolf populations will suffer as they already have in the states where delisting has occurred.
Northern Rocky Mountain StatesWestern Great Lakes StatesPacific Northwest States
Wolves have not made a full recovery and have been prematurely removed from the endangered species list in some states. A full recovery will only materialize when wolves are protected with the habitat and corridors they need to survive. The senseless killing has to end and endangered species protections must be preserved.
Northern Rocky Mountain States
In 1995, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduced wolves to Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho after they had been exterminated from the area in the early 1900’s. The wolves prospered and began expanding their range into the neighboring states of Wyoming, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. Wolves in this region lost their endangered species protections and are at the mercy of the management plans of the states. These states have wolf plans that use hunting to drastically reduce the wolf population with no guarantee of sustainability.
As of December 31, 2017, at least 347 wolves inhabited Wyoming: 238 lived outside Yellowstone National Park, 97 lived inside Yellowstone National Park, and 12 lived inside the Wind River Reservation.
Upon delisting, Wyoming quickly instituted wolf trophy hunts with the objective to reduce the wolf population of the state. In 2017, there were 168 wolf mortalities; 150 of these (89%) were human caused, 12 (7%) natural causes, and 6 unknown (4%).
Wyoming has a wolf trophy game management area with seasonal hunting. Wolves can be killed subject to a quota and minimal license fee of about $20. In 2017, 44 wolves were killed in the trophy zone. Wyoming wasn’t satisfied with this outcome, so for 2018, the quota was increased to 58 wolves and the hunting season was extended by one month.
In the rest of the state, the hunting season never ends. 85% of Wyoming is considered predatory and has no quota. Wolves are considered vermin and can be killed with any form of violence, without a license, and at any time during the year. Hunters are allowed to harass, pursue, hunt, shoot, or kill wolves from or by use of any flying machine, automotive vehicle, trailer, motor-propelled wheeled vehicle or vehicle designed for travel over snow. There is no justification for such killing, let alone for such merciless killing.
Wolves go from one day being protected as an endangered species to delisting and at the mercy of state governments like Wyoming that authorize any sort of violence imaginable to reduce their numbers.
Wolves were confirmed to kill 194 head of livestock statewide in Wyoming in 2017. Wyoming has 1,665,000 head of cattle and sheep, making the percent of livestock lost to wolf depredations a minuscule 0.01%. The ranchers that were affected received $311,614 in compensation from the State of Wyoming.
The hunting season in Montana runs from September 15-March 15 each year. Wolves can be hunted on the vast majority of land in Montana with no limits. There are three game management units with quotas, two that border Yellowstone National Park (313 and 316) and one that borders Glacier National Park (110). Two wolves can be killed in each of the quota zones.
The Montana Legislature passed a law in 2013 (HB-73) preventing the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission from prohibiting hunting or trapping wolves “in an area immediately adjacent to a national park”. Consequently, hunting is allowed right up to the national park boundaries. This legislation seems to put a direct target on Yellowstone and Glacier wolves. The vast majority of Montana is available to hunt wolves, so it seems absurd that the land adjacent to the park boundary is necessary for hunting.
Wolves have to follow prey to survive. At times, that takes them across the invisible boundary of the park. Wolves have no idea they are in grave danger. A few feet shouldn’t be the difference between life and death, but it is. According to Brett French in the Helena Independent Record, “37 wolves who spent a majority of their time in the Yellowstone National Park have been shot by trophy hunters. 80% or 29 of the 37 wolves were shot in 313 and 316, Montana’s two quota zones that border the park.”
Without endangered species protections, wolves are rapidly disappearing in Montana. In just two years (2016-2017), 501 wolves were killed by hunting and trapping. Wolves are being killed at an alarming rate without knowing the scientific threshold for survival.
A wolf hunting license only costs a hunter about $20. The approximately 17,000 wolf licenses Montana sells generate about $400,000 in sales. That pales in comparison to the income generated by wildlife tourism. A National Park Service report shows that 4.1 million people visited Yellowstone in 2017, generating $629.6 million to the park’s neighboring communities which Yellowstone supports.
Unfortunately, the state agencies charged with managing wildlife are funded by license fees and consequently, cater to the hunters and trappers. This is a conflict of interest and needs to be broken up and restructured. The state wildlife agencies should be funded by the general fund that is beholden financially to all of the public.
There were 80 livestock losses due to wolf depredations in Montana. With 2.6 million head of cattle and 230,000 sheep, livestock depredations due to wolves were 0.002%.
The information above comes from: The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks 2017 Wolf Report.
In the 2018 wolf trophy hunt to date, 278 wolves have been killed in Montana. This includes three Yellowstone wolves. The alpha female of the Cinnabar Pack and the alpha and only male of the Eight Mile Subgroup were killed in unit 313 and the daughter of 06 and matriarch of the Lamar Canyon Pack was killed in unit 316. All three of these packs are fighting for their survival now.
Since wolves were delisted in Idaho, there have been a staggering number of wolves killed. In 2018 alone, 395 wolves were killed. 312 were killed by hunters and trappers and 83 by Wildlife “Services”. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) uses their Wildlife “Services” to aerially gun down wolves.
The last intensive wolf count in Idaho was in 2015 when officials estimated the population to be 786 at the end of the year. Since then, Idaho stopped reporting the wolf population as individuals and only reports the population in terms of packs. Last year, IDFG estimated the state has 90 wolf packs. They note a typical pack has six to nine wolves meaning Idaho estimates there are about 540 to 810 wolves in the state.
Western Great Lakes States
In the Western Great Lakes States, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota wolves are protected by the Endangered Species Act.
However, legislation is constantly being written to try to remove wolves from the endangered species list. Legislators are sneaky and add the words “without judicial review” to their bills to take away the ability for the justice system to intervene. Some members of Congress have also tried to add this legislation as a rider to a spending bill. The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife in the Trump administration is also pushing to strip wolves across the country of their federal protections.
Michigan is home to 662 gray wolves in its Upper Peninsula and Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior. At last count, there were two wolves left on Isle Royale, a father and daughter who are half-siblings and born two years apart to the same mother. This extreme inbreeding necessitated a genetic rescue of the wolf population and led to reintroduction efforts.
Four wolves have already been reintroduced to the island, although one died. One more reached the mainland across an ice bridge that formed this winter. There are efforts being made to reintroduce more wolves to the island this year. Michigan voters said NO to wolf hunting when they soundly defeated referendums twice at the ballot.
As of April 2018, Wisconsin has 904-944 wolves. If wolves are delisted in Wisconsin, they will be subjected to hunting with hounds. Wisconsin is the only state in the nation where wolf-hounding is legal and hunters can unleash dogs to track and trail wolves. A hunter is allowed to use up to six dogs at a time to trail wolves and they often replace tired dogs with fresh ones. Dogs are trained to surround, attack, and terrorize their prey. Hounding is cruel and barbaric, and an inhumane hunting practice that has no place in today’s civilized society.
Minnesota had 2,655 wolves and 465 wolf packs during the winter of 2017-2018.
Pacific Northwest States
Wolves in the eastern third of Oregon and the eastern third of Washington are delisted as an endangered species and they are at mercy of the management plans of their respective states. Wolves in the western third of Oregon and the western third of Washington are federally protected as an endangered species.
In the western two-thirds of Washington, wolves are fully protected federally under the ESA. In the eastern third of Washington, where wolves are more populated, they have been delisted as an endangered species federally, but are classified as endangered under state law. However, Washington states’ own endangered species act is not nearly as protective as the federal act.
Even though there are only 122 wolves that currently live in Washington, multiple wolf pack kill operations have been made by the state from 2012 through the present. 18 wolves or 15% of the total population were killed by the state since 2012.
One rancher has reported the majority of the wolf depredations of cattle in Washington and is responsible for four entire packs being destroyed.
As of April 2018, Oregon state biologists counted at least 124 wolves. Most of these wolves reside in the eastern third of the state where they were prematurely delisted as an endangered species. Wolves in the western two-thirds of the state continue to be federally protected as endangered.
With such a small population of wolves, it seems as though Oregon Department of Fish Wildlife would be focused on developing a state Wolf Plan that is science-based and promotes conservation.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. Stakeholders such as farmers and ranchers, hunters, and wildlife conservation groups have been working in good faith for five years on the Plan. Every amendment to the Plan that conservation groups the Center for Biological Diversity, Oregon Wild, Cascadia Wildlands, and Defenders of Wildlife ever suggested was rejected. There was not a genuine effort by all parties to reach compromise, so in January 2019, the conservation groups had no choice and all withdrew as stakeholders in the Plan.
Wolves in California are protected and considered endangered under both California and federal Endangered Species Acts. There are an estimated 10 to 15 wolves currently in the entire state of California.
There is a section in northern Utah where wolves have been removed from endangered species protections. Wolves are still protected federally in the rest of the state.
Wolves are nearly extinct in the state of Colorado. The Colorado Wildlife Commission adopted a Wolf Management plan in 2005.
The Rocky Mountain Wolf Project aims to bring wolves back to Colorado by improving public understanding and cultivating enthusiasm about wolves.