Few wildlife conservation efforts have been as controversial as that of the grey wolf in the Northern Rockies. Federal efforts to protect the wolf have clashed with state efforts to control wolf populations and protect livestock and game from predation by wolf packs.
Idaho and Montana have been given federal authority to manage wolf numbers using public hunts. Federal officials require Idaho to maintain a population of at least 150 wolves and 10 breeding pairs.
Idaho wildlife officials have boosted bag limits, expanded trapping and extended hunting seasons in some areas to help further reduce wolf populations in all corners of the state. Its 10-month wolf season runs until June.
Idaho’s wolf managers estimated 500 to 600 wolves roamed the state as of spring 2012, down from the more than 1,000 when the 2011 hunting season opened in August.
Hunters and trappers killed 364 wolves since the 2011 season opened, while dozens more wolves have died of natural causes or been killed for preying on livestock or targeted as part of a strategy to lessen impacts on specific elk herds in the state.
A federal appeals court in March rejected a lawsuit from conservation groups that wanted to block wolf hunts across the Northern Rockies. The ruling from a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Congress had the right to intervene when it stripped protections from wolves in spring 2011.
Lawmakers stepped in after court rulings kept wolves on the endangered list for years after they reached recovery goals. Wildlife advocates claimed in their lawsuit that Congress violated the separation of powers by interfering with the courts. But the court said Congress was within its rights, and that lawmakers had appropriately amended the Endangered Species Act to deal with Northern Rockies wolves.
There are more than 1,700 wolves in Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and expanding populations in portions of Eastern Washington and northeastern Oregon. Wolf hunting could resume in Wyoming this fall.
In parts of Montana, ranchers and local officials frustrated with continuing attacks on livestock have proposed bounties for hunters that kill wolves. Montana wildlife officials said they will consider ways to expand hunting after 166 wolves were killed this season, short of the state’s 220-wolf quota.
Wolves once thrived across North America but were exterminated across most of the continental U.S. by the 1930s, through government sponsored poisoning and bounty programs.
Wolves were put on the endangered list in 1974. Over the last two decades, state and federal agencies have spent more than $100 million on wolf restoration programs across the country. There are more than 4,500 of the animals in the upper Great Lakes and a struggling population of several dozen wolves in the Desert Southwest.
Prior lawsuits resulted first in the animals’ reintroduction to the Northern Rockies and then later kept them on the endangered list for a decade after the species reached recovery goal of 300 wolves in three states.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is monitoring the hunts. But agency officials have said they have no plans to intervene because the states have pledged to manage wolves responsibly.
Federal officials have pledged to step in to restore endangered species protections if wolf numbers drop to less than 100 animals in either Montana or Idaho.
Even without hunting, wolves are shot regularly in the region in response to livestock attacks. Since their reintroduction, more than 1,600 wolves have been shot by government wildlife agents or ranchers.
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Latest updates in this topic
WILDLIFE — The Obama administration is seeking to lift Endangered Species Act protections from two of the most iconic symbols of the American West, the gray wolf and grizzly bear, in moves likely to spark fierce resistance from environmentalists.
Read the entire Washington Post update.
At the Butte Standard, reporter Nick Gevock describes running across a group of 7 “slob hunters” while he was out hunting recently with his brother. Seems these guys simply opened fire on a herd of about 40 elk in the Madison Valley of Montana, some possibly not even hunting. Then, he and his brother followed the blood trails to locate and kills — and wait for the “hunters” to arrive to claim them. Some of them never did. Nick describes this encounter with one of the slobs: ” I said there were blood trails and dead elk over here, and no one tagging them, and he replied “That’s their loss,” referring to his friends. Then he commented that “I’m from northwest Montana, and we’ve got so darn many wolves up there, we can’t hunt elk.” You can read the story here.
Question: Which poses a greater danger to elk — wolves or slob hunters like those described above?
ENDANGERED SPECIES — An official with the state’s wildlife agency has told Montana State University’s president that cooperation between the two entities could end due to one of the school’s scientists challenging the agency’s conclusions on how significantly a proposed wolf hunt would reduce wolf populations.
Read on to see what the Bozeman Daily Chronicle found through a public records request.
A close encounter ranks among the most memorable outdoor experiences my wife, daughter and I have experienced together. But we weren’t alone and the wolves didn’t advance on us. Bold wolves are worth noticing. A lawsuit prevented the highly regulated wolf hunting season scheduled in Idaho this fall, a situation that’s been cheered and loathed. I personally have little desire to shoot a wolf. But after interviewing some of the top wolf experts in the world last year, I’m convinced – as they are – that limited hunting would be good medicine for the wolf’s acceptance by our society, and it’s ultimate survival/Rich Landers, SR. More here.
Question: Do you agree with Rich’s opinion that limited hunting “would be good medicine for the wolf’s acceptance by our society, and it’s ultimate survival”?
Should hunting be allowed for wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains?
Here’s a summary of the answers given to me in interviews from leading wolf experts:
• “You have to remove the bad apples.”
Doug Smith , Yellowstone National Park wolf project leader
• “Wolves are fully recovered in the Northern Rocky Mountain states. It’s important to let the states manage them, and hunting is one of the tools.”
Ed Bangs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wolf recovery coordinator for the Northern Rockies
• “I think the wilder we keep the animals, the better it is. One way that’s done is through hunting them.”
David Mech, U.S. Geological Survey wildlife biologist who has worked with wolves for 51 years; founder of the Minnesota-based International Wolf Center
• “Hunting wolves is already allowed in Canada. It’s a negative reinforcement that keeps wolves wild and more respectful of keeping a distance from people.”
Lu Carbyn, a leading Canadian government wolf authority, retired
• “I have been protecting wolves all my life, but we need a realistic system in order to coexist. I’ve written about the need to shoot a few wolves …”
Luigi Boitani, Europe’s leading wolf scientist, based at the University of Rome
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is en route back from a two-hour meeting this morning in Denver with the governors of Montana and Wyoming and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, which Otter attended at Salazar’s invitation. Otter in October pulled his state out of participating in wolf management, turning all duties over to federal authorities and saying Idaho wouldn’t participate if it couldn’t hold a wolf hunt. “Nobody’s talking about eliminating these animals - our position has been biological stability,” said Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian. “We feel we’ve more than reached that, and the problem is that it’s being legislated in the courts. I think that’s why we’ve reached the impasse we currently find ourselves in.”
Idaho and Montana conducted successful state-regulated wolf hunts in the past year while their wolves were off the endangered species list, but a federal judge’s ruling halted plans for another wolf hunt in the two states this fall. Hanian said Otter made it clear when he ended Idaho’s role in wolf management that “we’re open to any discussion that would further Idaho’s efforts to have a hunting season, because we think that’s an integral part of successful management.”
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter joined Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal and U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at a meeting this morning in Lakewood, Colo. to discuss the status of wolf management in the three states - a meeting Salazar called. Afterward, the secretary said he, the governors and Assistant Secretary for Fish, Wildlife and Parks Tom Strickland discussed “a path forward regarding the Northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population;” you can read our full story here at spokesman.com.
“The successful recovery of the gray wolf is a stunning example of how the Endangered Species Act can work to keep imperiled animals from sliding into extinction,” Salazar said in a statement after the gathering. “Today’s meeting was very constructive and I appreciate that the governors share our goal to delist the species with a responsible approach guided by science.”
Wolves were removed from endangered species protection in Idaho and Montana in 2009, but remained protected in Wyoming, where the state had no federally approved wolf management plan, and instead declared that wolves could be shot on sight in much of the state. A federal judge this year overturned the delisting decision, on grounds that it couldn’t address the same regional wolf population differently along state lines.
Strickland said, “There are many complexities involved in how we conduct the delisting. In today’s meeting we discussed how we move forward to both delist the wolf and provide appropriate protection in the future.”
Wyoming Gov. Freudenthal told the Associated Press after the meeting, “The frustration from both the governors and the secretary is that everybody recognizes that the (wolf) population is not only recovered, but it is robust. And why we can’t get to delisting, I think, is very frustrating for all of the people sitting around that table.” Freudenthal said Wyoming and the other states haven’t committed to anything. And while he emphasized that Wyoming is open to talking about changes in its tactics, he said it’s not willing to change its fundamental principle that it needs to be able to manage wolves as it sees fit outside the “recovery area.”
WILDLIFE — Karen Calisterio, 52, the North Idaho woman involved in a wolf encounter near her Tensed home and featured in my column today has posted on the Facebook page of Idaho For Wildlife, a group that’s been critical of wolf management in Idaho.
This should have been included in the printed version of the column.
However, Calisterio says she’s not a member of the group, which also is involved in hunter education and wildlife conservation projects.
Some readers are rightfully skeptical. Some are charging that the incident was fabricated to fuel anti-wolf hysteria. That’s only a hunch on their part.
Still others are saying this,and Pam Secord’s similar barnyard wolf encounter, indicate that wolves are becoming more comfortable roaming into inhabited areas. There’s some substance to that, based on other sightings.
Wolf experts I have interviewed from Alaska to Yellowstone Park to Italy all have agreed that limited wolf hunting should be in the recipe for the species survival. Wolves are visual learners. To advance toward a human and size up the situation is normal wolf behavior, according to the experts. But once wolves have learned that a human might be dangerous, they are more likely to flee and avoid human contact.
WILDLIFE — A North Idaho woman said she was confronted by at least four wolves as she walked alone up her rural driveway between Tensed and Plummer at dusk on Saturday.
Karen Calisterio, 52, was trudging up the snow-plugged lane when she saw two dogs about 200 yards ahead near her house. At first she thought they were her two cow dogs coming to greet her.
“Then I saw two more of them, and all four were walking toward me,” she said.
“That’s when I said, ‘Oh shit, I’m alone and I’m in trouble.’”
Read on to get her full account of the next 20 minutes of terror.
WILDLIFE — A federal judge says the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was wrong to refuse to turn management of gray wolves over to the state of Wyoming.
Judge Alan B. Johnson of Cheyenne today ordered the federal agency to consider again whether Wyoming’s wolf management plan would be adequate to meet federal recovery goals for wolves, according to an Associated Press report.
Environmental groups and others have criticized the Wyoming plan for specifying that wolves would be classified as predators that could be shot on sight in most areas. The Wyoming plan would protect wolves only in the northwestern part of the state.
Concerns over Wyoming’s plan recently prompted a federal judge in Montana to strip Idaho and Montana of their authority to manage their own wolf populations. The decision forced the two states to cancel hunting seasons established to help keep the wolf numbers in check.
“The horses started freaking out,” said Pitman, who first saw a group of wolves approaching no more than 30 to 40 yards away. Appleby saw them soon after. “There were seven or eight of them and they were running at us at full stride at first,” said Appleby, who dashed toward the wolves to get his rifle. “I was about halfway there and I heard Raymond shoot with his .44 mag,” Appleby wrote in his statement to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “When I reached my gun, I picked it up and the wolves stopped. I pointed my gun at them at about the same time they started to run at us again. At that time, I feared for my life and the horses and my friend and I started to shoot”/Jim Mann, Daily Inter Lake. More here.
Question: Still think Br’er Wolf wouldn’t hurt a human?
“I disagree with my opponent’s definition of sovereignty and his idea about the state’s role,” Gov. Butch Otter said today in response to Democratic challenger Keith Allred’s statements about wolves at a press conference this morning. “State sovereignty to me isn’t managing a federally protected species under miles of federal red-tape as a designated agent of the same government that forced wolves on the people of Idaho in 1994 without regard for the devastating impacts it will have on our wildlife, livestock and way of life.” Click below for the rest of Otter’s statement.
In perhaps the weirdest news yet on the wolf front this week, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter late yesterday reversed himself on comments he’d made to the Associated Press a day earlier about whether people ought to shoot wolves. Here’s the AP news item on the reversal:
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is warning Idaho hunters not to shoot wolves they see chasing elk, a reversal of his stance just a day ago. On Monday, he announced Idaho was relinquishing wolf management duties in protest of the federal government’s refusal to allow a public hunt. After a press conference in Boise, Otter told The Associated Press that federal laws allow hunters to shoot wolves they saw pursuing elk or moose. But he clarified his position Tuesday. Otter still believes big game are Idaho’s “livestock,” and that residents should be able to protect them like any livestock owner. But actually shooting a wolf would likely be a violation of federal law. Otter is still hoping for federal permission to kill dozens of wolves in northcentral Idaho’s Lolo region he blames for reducing elk herds there.
Here’s a link to our full story on Gov. Butch Otter’s decision yesterday to back away from wolf management in Idaho, turning that task over to federal authorities. In practical terms, Monday’s pronouncement means state employees won’t monitor wolf populations, investigate suspicious or illegal killings or take part in culling wolf packs that prey on livestock. Any tips will be turned over to federal wildlife officials, writes S-R reporter Becky Kramer.
Asking state wildlife managers to enforce unpopular federal mandates, including no taking of wolves, isn’t fair or safe for employees, Wayne Wright, chairman of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission, told the Spokesman-Review. “There’s a lot of anger and angst out there on the part of sportsmen with the whole judicial process,” Wright said. “It would be very difficult for us to put our officers in harm’s way.”
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter spoke out tonight about his decision today to pull the state out of wolf management, shifting that authority to federal officials. Asked his response to opponent Keith Allred’s charge that by doing so, he’s yielding Idaho’s state sovereignty to the feds, Otter said, “Nothing else has worked. Everything that they’ve promised us, they’ve not kept. … It’s just time for us to draw the line.”
He also said the decision came “after months and months of frustration,” and said of wolves, “We didn’t want ‘em here in the first place.”
Keith Allred, the Democratic challenger to Gov. Butch Otter, has issued a statement calling Otter’s move today to withdraw the state from wolf management “reckless,” and saying, “Butch Otter just gave away more state power to the federal government. We need to be asserting our sovereignty, not giving it away.” Allred said he would “take control of this issue, not avoid it,” and charged that Otter’s decision amounted to “run(ning) away from the problem.” You can read his full statement here.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has notified Interior Secretary Ken Salazar that the state is terminating its “designated agent status” for wolf management - meaning the state no longer will be in charge of wolf management, turning that back over to the federal government. “I join many Idahoans in questioning whether there is any benefit to being a designated agent without the flexibility of a public hunt,” Otter wrote in a letter to Salazar today.
It’s an abrupt turnaround from the direction the state Fish & Game Commission endorsed earlier, of remaining active in wolf management despite a federal court having restored the endangered status of wolves due to litigation over wolf management in Wyoming. Otter wrote in his letter that the state “stands ready to manage wolves when the species is once again delisted.” He said he was concerned that if the state were to continue management now, the Department of Interior wouldn’t adequately fund it, leaving open the possibility that Idaho sportsman fees that fund the state’s Fish & Game Department could be tapped. Otter also decried the original reintroduction of wolves to the state in 1994. “Idahoans have suffered this intolerable situation for too long, but starting today at least the State no longer will be complicit,” he wrote. You can read Otter’s full letter here, and click below to read his full press release announcing the move.
Mr. Bloggy: Remember, most Idaho hunters are subnormal in intelligence, overweight, nicotine-dependent, and in a generally quite poor physical condition. When they drive their pickups and ATVs down logging and forest service roads they should be able to easily road hunt precious Elk without any unnecessary dismounting and dangerous exertions involving hiking into forests and up hills. But those days are gone now ever since the illegally introduced Canadian Elk Wolf began to systematically destroy the Precious Honey Bunch Elk population that lived within two Marlboro Lightsometers from major logging and forest services roads. Once the two pack distance was breached (approximately 1.5 km or “klicks”) , hunting our Precious Sweetie Plum Elk became a deadly cardiac event tempting hell slog for innocent Idaho hunters.
Question: Do you agree with this portrait of elk hunters, provided by Mr. Bloggy?
Deer and pheasant hunting seasons kicked off in North Idaho this last weekend. While wolves were also hunted last season, they’ve been put back on the endangered species list and are now officially off limits. There are two camps at polar opposite ends of the debate over wolf hunting. There are the hunters who believe wolves should be fair game and there are the environmentalists who want wolves left alone/Tania Dall, KXLY. More here.
Question: Did the feds make a poor decision by electing to shut down a second season of wolf hunting in the Inland Northwest?