Last Friday the Endangered Species Act protection for the gray wolves was lifted in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. The management of wolves is now the responsibility of individual states. The amount of protection for wolves in each state varies with Montana providing a little legal protection, Idaho near zero, and Wyoming has a shoot on sight policy anywhere outside of the national parks.
The day after the protection was lifted the extermination began. I received word last night that famous wolf #253m was killed on the Elk feeding grounds in Wyoming. Apparently for no other reason that fun. The coward didn't even bother himself with a hunt. He just went to the elk feeding grounds and started killing. Wolf 253 and a female companion were killed.
Upon hearing the news I was outraged! I expected this to happen, I knew it would happen, but that still didn't prepare me for knowing that it was NOW happening. I sat in front of the keyboard wanting to type this message. I wanted to type that the coward that shot the wolves should himself be shot. I wanted to type that the politicians who successfully won the right to re-exterminate the wolves should be shot. I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, "haven't we learned anything in the last 100 years!" I sat there for an hour, but no typable words came out. I tried to read, but I couldn't. I tried to watch TV, but I couldn't. I tried to sleep, but I couldn't. I hoped this was an isolated incident, but I know that it's not.
Wolf #253m was the famous beta male of the Druid peak wolf pack in Yellowstone National Park. He had an injured rear leg that caused him to walk with a significant limp, unless he was on a hunting chase. In a chase he ran through the pain with all four legs. He once traveled over 500 miles in a week to be caught in a trap in Utah. When Druid Pack Alpha male #21m was killed while trying to bring down a bull elk, 253 tried to take over the alpha spot. He was challenged by another which caused a separation within the pack into two groups. 253 and his group moved out of the park. Since then he has kept a low profile and stayed out of trouble. In the winter the State of Wyoming feed elk in a huge feeding ground operation. Wolves go where the Elk go, so 253 has regularly visited the elk feeding grounds. This is where he was apparently shot.
Alpha 21m, Beta 253m (center black wolf), and Alpha 42f
howling in Yellowstone National Park (Feb 2003)
Wolf 253 holds a special place in my heart. He was within the first group of wolves I ever saw in the wild. He and the alpha pair of the Druid pack (21m and 42f, both killed naturally), helped formulate who I am today. While I was always interested in wildlife, watching wolves in the wild triggered my deeper interest in wildlife, birds, eco-systems, etc. They started the motivation to create this blog. They were the seeds of my interest in going back to school to study biology. My life, my interests, my motivation, have all been transformed by their presence.
Now we have state sponsored wolf extermination in progress. Is it due to the wolf's effect on elk, no. Elk populations have not suffered under their presence. Is it due to their impact ranching, no. There are many effective ways to prevent livestock predation by wolves and predation levels have been insignificantly small compared to other much larger issues. Is it for personal safety, no. There have been no wolf attacks on people or near attacks in the years since re-introduction. Is it simply political, absolutely. Many people in Idaho are opposed to any regulation that governs their behavior. They are opposed to clean water regulations, they are opposed to clean air regulations, and they are of course opposed to any restrictions imposed by the endangered species act. They fought re-introduction of wolves, not because of wolves, but because the result is that the federal government was enforcing restrictions on their behavior.
It comes as no surprise that the current Secretary of the Interior, under which the ridiculous state management plans were approved, was one of the most vocal opponents to the re-introduction to begin with. He has essentially approved state management plans which will reverse all of the ecosystem value that we have received thus far and negate the intent of the endangered species act.
I have stated before that if a reasonable management plan was produced that ensured stable and reasonable sized wolf population, the issues would go away on both sides. Instead we have let the pendulum swing back to the other extreme providing wolves less protection than any other species in state! This will ensure that the wolf issue stays in the forefront for decades to come.
Update April 2: The killing continues - Pair of wolves shot in Idaho.
Update April 8: Four more wolves killed in Wyoming, bringing the total to 9 that have been reported. This accounts for nearly one third of all wolves in Wyoming outside of the national parks.
Update April 10: A total 10 wolves have been now been reported as killed in Wyoming outside the protected zone (1/3 of the expected population). Rancher receives permit to kill 4 more inside the protected zone.
Update April 12: People shouldn't be alarmed, but the Wyoming kill total is up to 13. "If that pace were to continue, all of the known wolves in the Cowboy State's new wolf predator management area would be dead in fewer than three weeks"
Update April 17: Two more illegally shot in Idaho. These were absolutely illegal as they weren't near any livestock, domestic animals, and they weren't reported.