Petition calls on federal government to review state of wolf population
MISSOULA – As Montana approves a wider range of deadly wolf regulations, including baiting and trapping, two conservation groups in Idaho and Montana are asking the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to examine the survival potential of the species.
Wednesday, the Missoula-based company Endangered Species Coalition and the Idaho Conservation League sent a letter to Home Secretary Deb Haaland and US Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Martha Williams, asking them to take two immediate steps to prevent gray wolves from being wiped out in the Northern Rockies.
First, the Fish and Wildlife Service should conduct a review of the state of the wolf population in light of recent changes in wolf management by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, and Idaho Fish and Game.
Second, the Fish and Wildlife Service should begin another period of post-radiation monitoring, and the groups suggest that it last for 10 years.
Normally, after a species is delisted, state wildlife biologists must monitor the population for the next five years, during which the species could be re-listed if the population declines again.
Congress deregistered the wolf in 2011, and Fish, Wildlife & Parks conducted annual wolf counts through 2017 as part of post-radiation surveillance.
Derek Goldman, representative of the Endangered Species Coalition Northern Rockies, said the petition responds in part to the FWP commission’s approval of additional lethal methods on Friday, but the groups were already working on it after Montana and Idaho passed the legislation that prompted the new regulations.
âIn re-reading this 2009 delisting rule, I saw this clause that one of the incentives for the Fish and Wildlife Service to initiate a status review is changes in law or state management that threaten the wolf population. The Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t have to wait for the population to drop to 150 wolves to start the status review, âGoldman said.
âThe idea is to point out that (clause) for the FWS – ‘You have a responsibility here; you approved the state management plans ten years ago. What is happening in these states now is a significant departure from what they agreed to and what the FWS approved. “
When the USFWS first proposed delisting in 2009, the wolf populations in Montana, Idaho, and Montana met the minimum population criteria of 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs in each state.
It should be noted that a population of 150 wolves does not guarantee the existence of 15 breeding pairs. Wolves have a highly developed social structure where only the dominant males and females of a pack breed.
If either is killed, it may take a year or more for another male and female to join together to form a pack. During this time, the rest of the pack can disperse and get into trouble with humans without experienced adults teaching them to stay safe.
Montana’s measured wolf management plan received immediate approval from the FWP, followed by Idaho. Wyoming first stated that it treat wolves like vermin, allowing them to be shot on sight, poisoned or run over with snowmobiles. Thus, the Fish and Wildlife Service kept the wolves in protected status until 2017.
Montana has enjoyed a fairly liberal wolf season over the past decade, allowing the wolf harvest to peak at 328 wolves in 2020, according to FWP administrator Ken McDonald.
But earlier this year, using the unproven claim that wolves kill too many elk in western Montana, the 2021 Montana legislature passed bills allowing the use of snares for wolves, the night hunting with night vision goggles or other technology, hunting with bait and a longer season.
Lawmakers also demanded that the wolf population be reduced to 150 wolves, the minimum population for delisting. The last Montana Wolf Survey in 2017 counted around 625 wolves. Since then, the FWP has estimated the population at around 800 wolves, based on hunter reports and computer modeling.
The Idaho legislature also passed a bill allowing for more extensive hunting and trapping including year round wolf season on private land, night hunting, hunting from snowmobiles and all terrain vehicles and allowing people to purchase an unlimited number of wolf medallions for hunting, trapping and snaring.
As with Montana, the mandated goal is to reduce the population to a minimum of 150 wolves. Idaho lawmakers have said wolves are killing too many cattle. The Idaho Fish and Game commission opposed the law, saying it called on the federal government to intervene. Many say that no other species is limited to a minimum population.
A week ago, before the Montana FWP commission approved the culling of more wolves, the Biden administration chose not to oppose an order from the Trump administration at the 11th hour to remove all wolves from endangered species protection.
Despite this, the deputy director of ecological services of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Gary Frazer, told The Associated Press that the Trump administration’s order was based on a situation that does not exist now because that states have made so many drastic changes.
Frazer told the AP that the different states have shown a common approach: Legislatures and politically appointed wildlife commissions are taking determined action to reduce populations.
“We are aware that the circumstances have changed and we will be closely monitoring the reaction of the people,” Frazer told the PA last week.
The Endangered Species Act, adopted in 1973, retained about 227 species to become extinct and recovered about 40 species to the point where they could be removed from the list. More than half have been written off in the last decade,
No delisted species were returned to the list, but the vast majority – butterflies, lizards, etc. – are species that are not killed for sport like wolves. Releasing would therefore not only be politically unpopular, but also uncharted territory for the Fish and Wildlife Service.
But the Endangered Species Coalition and the Idaho Conservation League don’t want to wait and see what happens after the next Wolves Season.
âThe Fish and Wildlife Service seems reluctant to get back into the wolf fray. But our point is that they have a responsibility to do it, âGoldman said.
On May 26, the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, and Humane Society in the United States filed an emergency petition to re-register the wolf under the Endangered Species Act. On June 16, 50 other organizations and individuals added their voices at the re-registration request. The US Fish and Wildlife Service had until August 24 to respond.
âOn July 30, US representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Don Beyer (D-VA) and Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) and a bipartisan group of 85 representatives asked Haaland to reconsider the decision to remove the wolf gray from the list. . Their letter highlighted the support of more than 400 scientists calling for federal protections for wolves and said new state laws that allow inhumane hunting practices threaten the recovery of the species.
Thursday, the Missoula-based company Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation released a statement praising the Biden administration for supporting the de-listing of the wolf.
Contact reporter Laura Lundquist at [email protected]