Being unreasonable about wolves

Last week, NRDC joined with a coalition of partners to challenge the government’s decision to remove federal protections from wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains.  We also asked for an injunction to suspend the killing of wolves in this region which has already resulted in the deaths of at least 40 wolves – that’s an average of about a wolf a day since the delisting occurred. Combined with the anticipated state hunts scheduled for the fall, the wolves could be back to endangered numbers in no time.

In response, some are characterizing our actions as another needless lawsuit by unreasonable environmentalists.  Citing the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s recovery goals of 300 wolves, the states claim that the wolves are more than recovered with numbers around 1500.  What they don’t acknowledge is that those goals were set over twenty years ago when we knew much less about the biological requirements of many species including wolves.  

It turns out that the current numbers are much closer to what is necessary for a recovered population.  Scientific advancements in the last two decades tell us that we need to maintain an interconnected population of 2000-5000 wolves.  We are almost there, but the state plans would turn things back. 

Another recent scientific finding is that the wolves in Yellowstone have been genetically isolated from all other wolves in the region since the time of their reintroduction thirteen years ago.  While the wolves have otherwise thrived in their new environment - returning ecological balance to one of our country’s most iconic national parks – they cannot survive in the long run without an established connection to large numbers of other wolves in the region.

Researchers have found that if the Yellowstone wolves remain isolated, their population could suffer from genetic defects such as physical deformities and population decline in as little as 60 years.  This means that my son, a toddler now, could see the wolves in Yellowstone headed once again to extinction in his lifetime – and that’s if we keep the numbers where they are right now at 1500. 

The state plans, which are based on the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s 20 year old recovery goals of 300 wolves, would allow these numbers to be significantly decreased thereby magnifying the isolation of wolves and speeding up the time to the population’s demise.  We’d like to see these plans changed to ensure a truly recovered, self-sustaining population of wolves.  I, personally, want my son to be able to witness the beauty and wonder of the natural world when he grows up rather than inheriting the burden of our mistakes for his generation to face.  Call me unreasonable.

About the Authors

Sylvia Fallon

Senior Director, Wildlife Division, Nature Program

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