Pressure to Kill Wolves Mounting Across the Western USA

WASHINGTON, DC, July 10, 2007 (ENS) Twelve years after reintroducing gray wolves to the Northern Rockies, the federal government has announced a plan that allows many of these same wolves and their offspring to be killed.

Farther south, New Mexico Governor and presidential candidate Bill Richardson Friday called for revision of state and federal wolf operating procedures after an endangered Mexican gray wolf was killed last week by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The government wants to remove the wolves from the endangered species list in late 2007 or early 2008, a move that conservation groups oppose. The new proposal allows wolves in the Northern Rockies to be killed before they are formally delisted.

"The government wants to treat wolves like vermin instead of an endangered species," said Louisa Willcox of the Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC. "It's trying to reverse one of the most successful wildlife recovery programs in U.S. history."

Under the proposed rule issued Friday by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, wolves outside Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and wolves that live in Central Idaho's wild country could be killed.

Gray wolf in the Northern Rockies (Photo courtesy USFWS)
he Service says it needs to make killing wolves easier to protect big game from wolf predation. Current rules allow wolves to be killed if the states can show that they are the "primary" cause of depletion of ungulates such as elk and deer.

This proposal would modify the definition of "unacceptable impacts" of wolves on wild ungulate populations to mean wolves are "one of the major causes of the population or herd not meeting established state or tribal management goals."

This definition expands the potential impacts for which wolf removal might be warranted beyond direct predation or those causing immediate population declines.

The meaning of "impact" would be defined by states or tribes with wolf management plans approved by the federal government.

Idaho and Wyoming state officials have said they intend to immediately kill over 50 percent, or up to 700 animals, reversing gains that Willcox says "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, anytime in that area.

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."

Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife says, "We must sound the alarm bells because, with one stroke of a pen, the Bush administration has announced they plan to hand over management of gray wolves to states whose main goal is to exterminate wolves."

Defenders supports the use of non-lethal measures to reduce livestock-wolf conflicts such as multiple guard dogs, electric night pens, fladry fencing, and task-specific range riders.

Defenders compensates ranchers 100 percent of the market value for confirmed livestock losses caused by wolves.

The Service says that as in the previous special rule on wolf killing, the state or tribal determination of unacceptable impacts and measures to be taken must be peer-reviewed and provided to the public for comment prior to a final decision by the Service.

Gray wolf mother and pup in the Northern Rockies (Photo courtesy NRDC)
The proposed rule also allows private citizens in states or on tribal lands with approved wolf management plans to take wolves that are in the act of attacking their stock animals or dogs. Stock animals are defined as a horse, mule, donkey or llama used to transport people or their possessions.

Evidence must be provided of stock animals or dogs recently wounded, harassed or killed by wolves and those injuries confirmed by agents designated by the Service.

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. A draft environmental assessment is being prepared on this proposed action.

Since 1995, only 43 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, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service.

"There has been no documentation of wolf depredations on stock animals that were accompanied by their owners in the past 12 years, but a few instances of stock animals being spooked by wolves have been reported," the Service said.

Thousands of gray wolves inhabited the Rocky Mountains before being eliminated across most of the West by the 1930s. 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 and 1996. About 1,300 wolves now live in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.

Wyoming has not had an approved wolf management plan and is negotiating with the federal government for approval of a law passed in May to constitute that plan.

Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal says the new law meets the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, FWS, requirements for an approved wolf management plan, but to date the federal agency has rejected it.

Despite the federal-state jurisdiction struggle, both the state and federal plans allow for only eight breeding pairs of wolves in Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park and John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway and an additional seven breeding pairs of wolves outside those protected areas.

"The State of Wyoming would designate wolves as a 'Trophy Game Species' within the area defined in the proposal, an area of suitable wolf habitat that is demonstrated to be capable of supporting at least 15 breeding pairs," writes Governor Freudenthal in a May 18 letter of Regional FWS Director Mitch King.

"I am very interested in seeing the delisting process move forward," the governor wrote.

A copy of FWS Northern Rockies proposal is online at:

All public comments on the proposal must be received by August 6, 2007.

Three open houses in combination with public hearings will take place before the 30-day comment period for this proposed revision closes.

Comments from the public on this proposed rule can be emailed to Please include RIN number 1018-Av39 in the subject line of the message.

Comments can be submitted through the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal: Follow the instructions at this website for submitting comments.

Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program in Danger

In Santa Fe on Friday, Governor Richardson said he is seeking to change key protocols for the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program following a wolf kill incident in southwestern New Mexico.

"I am deeply concerned about the recent escalation in wolf removals and incidents surrounding yesterday's lethal removal of a female wolf," said Richardson. "State Police are investigating the incident and are collecting the facts as this investigation takes its course."

On July 5, attempts to kill wolf AF924 were initiated before adequate notification was provided to the state of New Mexico, the governor said.

The wolf was killed by federal wildlife personnel before adequate communication was established, which resulted in conflicts between federal and state staff involved with the wolf program.

"This type of confusion is not an adequate basis for accomplishing important wolf restoration," said Richardson.

This wolf was killed by a poacher in New Mexico. (Photo courtesy NMDFG)
The lethal removal of a female wolf, that leaves pups with a single parent, is a setback to the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program, and signals that it is time to reexamine the protocols under which wolves are removed from the wild, the governor said.

Governor Richardson has instructed the director of the New Mexico Department of Game & Fish, NMDGF, and members of the State Game Commission to work with the state's partners in the Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program to review and revise standard operating procedures related to the control of nuisance (non-depredating) and problem (depredating) Mexican wolves.

The governor called for the immediate suspension of the use of Standard Operating Procedure 13 (SOP 13) procedures in New Mexico pending these revisions.

"I strongly support the effective recovery of endangered Mexican wolves in the Southwest, done in a responsible and sensitive way," said Richardson. "Changes must be made to the protocol for the wolf re-introduction program."

The Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit group based in Tucson, Arizona, echoes the governor's outrage and supports his call for suspending and reforming the federal rule requiring the killing of wolves.

"This wolf killing is a blatant abuse of federal power. It is undermining the recovery of the Mexican gray wolf, and is just the latest in a string of attacks on endangered species by the Bush administration," said Michael Robinson, conservation advocate for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The Mexican Gray Wolf Recovery Program is led by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and supported by a set of partners in the recovery area. The NMDGF is an active participant, along with the Arizona Department of Game and Fish, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services, and the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

The standard operating procedures were established by the partners to enhance the coordination and effective management of wolves.

In March, Governor Richardson directed the State Game Commission and the Department of Game and Fish to redouble their efforts to work with all interests to promote healthy wolf populations living in reasonable compatibility with communities and land stewards in New Mexico.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.