Dances with wolves: one step forward, two steps back

Today the Secretary of the Interior affirmed a Bush administration push to delist wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains.  This decision is obviously a great disappointment to those of us who have worked so hard to make sure that wolves in the Rockies are truly recovered and have the state protections they need to stay that way. 

We agree with Secretary Salazar that wolves are a remarkable endangered species success story. But we don't believe that the state plans will ensure their long term survival.  Even with the wolves still under federal protection, Idaho has been making plans to shoot at least 100 of its wolves.  And last year when protections were briefly lifted it only took a matter of months for all three states to collectively kill over 100 wolves. 

Because of the original recovery goals - which were developed more than 20 years ago and were never based on any scientific calculations or theory - the states would legally be able to reduce the number of wolves in the Northern Rockies from today's count of roughly 1500 wolves down to 300-450.   That's not much more than the number that Idaho wants to kill right now.  It's too few and it will only require protections to be reinstated in the future.

As I commented earlier, the current delisting plan also includes a new approach for ensuring that the three subpopulations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are connected by genetic exchange - namely tossing wolves in the back of trucks and dumping them off in new locations - and if that doesn't work, they would also consider switching pups between packs or using artificial insemination.  Do any of these options sound like part of a successfully recovered (i.e. self-sustaining) population?

The lack of genetic connectivity between the three subpopulations was a major concern last year when protections were returned to the wolves.  If there's reason to be concerned about genetic exchange now, there certainly will be if wolf numbers ever dip as low as the state plans allow.

We are arguing that we can get this right the first time around. Let's not recover wolves just to endanger them again.  Let's take a fresh look at wolf recovery.  I'm not saying we have to start this long process all over again - in fact I think we're almost there.  But let's not just get there - let's stay there.