Friday, February 22, 2008
Mass Wolf Kills on the Agenda in Idaho
In 1900 there were only 800 bison left in all of the U.S. Today, however, captive bison are so numerous they are sold as supermarket food, and management of wild populations is required to keep herds stable and healthy.
Gray wolves have been listed as endangered since 1974, and a population of 66 animals were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and Central Idaho in 1995 and 1996. These animals have since reproduced to a population of 1,500, and as a consequence the Federal Goverment is now moving to delist wolves in three states -- Montana, Wyoming and Idaho.
In Idaho, a plan is afoot to kill as many as 300 of the 700 wolves believed to be in the state.
The ironic thing (and the thing that reveals the politics behind the delisting initiative) is that Idaho, Wyoming and Montana do not have the largest wolf population in the U.S.; that would be Minnesota.
So what makes Idaho, Montana and Wyoming so special that these states get their very own wolf-killing pass?
The answer: powerful local interests which represent cattle ranchers and big game guides.
These folks want the wolves shot, theorizing that wolves represent a threat to their industries.
Of course the real threat to the cattle industry is something else, as the recent recall of 143 million pounds of meat mixed with "downer" cattle reveals.
As for the elk herd populations, they are still larger than the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service want on the land. Elk over-population remains Topic One when discussing herd management issues in Idaho, Wyoming and Montana.
Taking the wolf off the Endangered Species list does not necessarily mean that it is open season on wolves or that they can be legally hunted. What it does mean is that wolf abatement will be easier for ranchers, and that drunken rednecks who shoot wolves from their trucks will not longer face Federal charges. All three states will now have to develop, and submit, wolf management plans before any wolf killing-culling-hunting initiatives are begun.
Will the wolves manage to thrive anyway? That's the assessment of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service which notes that wolves are both smart and fecund.
The other bit of good news is that wolves exist in states other than Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Along with a larger wolf population in Minnesota, there is a small population in Michigan, a small but growing population in Wisconsin, a small population of red wolves in North Carolina, and a few wolves in Oregon, etc.
Across the U.S. there might be 4,000 wolves in the wild, out of a national population that was once estimated to top 200,000 animals.