LIVINGSTON, Mont. (July 6, 2007) – Twelve years after reintroducing wolves in the wild in the Northern Rockies, the federal government has today announced a plan to allow most of the animals to be exterminated. The government wants to remove the wolves from the endangered species list, a move that conservation groups oppose, but the new plan allows the slaughter to begin even before the wolves are formally delisted, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
“The government wants to treat wolves like vermin instead of an endangered species,” said the NRDC’s Louisa Willcox. “It’s trying to reverse one of the most successful wildlife recovery programs in U.S. history.”
Under the new rules announced today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wolves that wander outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, and wolves that live in Central Idaho’s wild country could be killed. Idaho and Wyoming state officials have stated their intentions to immediately kill over 50 percent, or up to 700 animals, reversing gains that have taken years and millions of dollars to achieve. Wyoming’s plan classifies wolves as “predatory animals” in three-fourths of the state, allowing them to be killed by anyone, anywhere, anytime. Aerial gunning will be used in Wyoming and Idaho. All three states will allow public hunting and trapping of wolves.
“Wolves are one of the main attractions for visitors at Yellowstone National Park. People are amazed and awed when they see them,” said Willcox. “Their recovery after more than a century of extermination is nothing short of miraculous. Turning back the clock would be a huge mistake.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service says it needs to make killing wolves easier to protect big game from wolf predation. However, current rules already allow wolves to be killed if the states can show that they are the “primary” cause of elk or deer depletion. The new rule allows wolves to be killed anywhere big game herds are considered below desired management levels, even though studies show that elk populations are particularly high and are damaging habitat in many areas by overgrazing.
The public will have 30 days to comment, and the killing could start in the fall. The government’s plan to revoke endangered species protection altogether is expected by early next year.
Thousands of gray wolves roamed the Rocky Mountains before being slaughtered and eliminated in most of the West by the 1930’s. The gray wolf was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Reintroduction efforts placed 66 wolves in Yellowstone National Park and part of Idaho in 1995-96. About 1,300 wolves now live in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
“The federal government is giving the states a license to kill under almost any circumstance,” said Willcox. “It’s going to be open season on wolves.”