Rocky Mountain Gray Wolves in the Crosshairs
WASHINGTON, DC, January 24, 2008 (ENS) - U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced new regulations that will allow states to kill gray wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains, despite the fact that wolves are currently protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The Service says the revision allows states and tribes with approved wolf management plans more flexibility to manage these wolves to ensure the health of wild populations and herds of elk and other ungulates, as well as to protect private property.

"The states have done an excellent job managing wolves, and this revision will provide the extra flexibility they may need to manage wolves for some time in the future," said Jay Slack, acting regional director for the Service's Mountain-Prairie Region. "Nonetheless, we will not authorize removal if it brings wolf populations below management population targets."

Killing of wolves will not be authorized if it would contribute to reducing the wolf population in any state below 20 breeding pairs and 200 total wolves, the Service said.

The revision would enable people on private or public land to "lethally take a wolf that is in the act of attacking their stock animals or dogs, under certain circumstances."

Gray wolf in the northern Rocky Mountains (Photo courtesy FWS)
The action will allow the killing of all but 600 of the approximately 1,500 wolves in the region. The rule applies to wolves in central Idaho and the Greater Yellowstone area - descendents of the 65 wolves that were reintroduced to those regions in 1995 and 1996.

Conservationists say the rule would undo years of wolf recovery work, allowing states to shoot the animals while they are still under federal protection.

"We've worked hard to bring wolves back from the brink of extinction," said Sierra Club representative Melanie Stein. "If we call open season on wolves now, we could soon find ourselves back at the starting line. It's a tremendous waste of taxpayer dollars."

"Deer and elk populations are thriving in this region. There's absolutely no reason to begin slaughtering wolves, other than to please a handful of special interests," Stein said. "This is another example of politics trumping science in the Bush administration. Federal and state agencies are tripping over each other, and our wildlife are suffering as a result."

These modifications would not apply to states or tribes without approved wolf management plans and would not impact wolves outside the Yellowstone or central Idaho nonessential experimental population areas or in National Parks. An environmental assessment has been prepared on this action and is available at the same website

In its environmental assessment, the Service determined that controlling wolves to address impacts with elk and deer would not compromise recovery of the northern Rocky Mountain wolf. This determination is supported by current research on growth rates of this wolf population, wolf behavior and biology.

But Suzanne Stone, northern Rockies wolf conservation specialist for Defenders of Wildlife calls the revision "a giant step backward."

"Stripping away protection for our wolves is entirely unjustified," said Stone. "Elk and deer populations in all three northern Rockies states are at or near record highs, and nonlethal, proactive methods are helping to reduce conflicts between wolves and livestock. There is absolutely no reason to begin a wholesale slaughter of the region's wolves. Yet that is exactly what the federal government is willing to allow the states to do: wipe out hundreds of the wolves our nation has worked so hard to recover."

"This is a scheme based on backdoor politics, not science, and it goes too far. Wolves in the northern Rockies have only recently neared a point where the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service could consider removing federal protections from them. In finalizing this rule, the Service is ignoring its responsibility to ensure the long-term survival of the region's wolf population," Stone said.

The Service says that since 1995, only 60 wolves have been legally killed by private citizens in defense of their private property, or by shoot-on-sight permits as authorized by either the 1994 or 2005 experimental population special rules.

In the past 12 years, the agency says, two wolves have been taken by federal land permittees as wolves chased and harassed horses in corrals or on pickets. There have also been a few reported instances of stock animals being spooked by wolves. "Based on this information, the Service believes it is unlikely that wolf control to protect stock animals and dogs would meaningfully impact the wolf population."

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