License to Kill
In Idaho and Montana, in early 2009, gray wolves were removed from the endangered species list and left to the mercy of state “management plans.” Those plans have been crafted to satisfy hunters rather than protect the wolves or the ecosystem in which they play an essential role. They all but guarantee the slow extinction of the roughly 1,700 wolves left in the Rocky Mountain West.
The wolf-hunting quota in Montana was 75 animals last year. This year it is 186 out of an estimated 524 wolves in the state. Idaho, which is expected to announce its quota next month, will allow wolves to be trapped, then shot, and it will let hunters use electronic calls.
These plans are the extension of a weak and outdated recovery plan (approved by the federal government in 1987) that requires each state to maintain only 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs — far below what’s necessary to guarantee genetically healthy populations. And since that is the only official minimum on the books, it is an invitation to Idaho and Montana to keep killing wolves, until they approach that number. (In Wyoming, wolves are still on the endangered list because the state has yet to develop even a minimally acceptable management scheme.)
As a coalition of environmental groups has been arguing in federal court in Montana, there also is no scientific or legal basis for splitting the management of contiguous wolf populations among the states. The wolves should be restored to the endangered species list and returned to federal management.
United States District Judge Donald Molloy indicated some sympathy with these arguments when he heard the case last year, but he refused to grant an injunction against the hunts. We hope for a different outcome when he rules later this year.
The hunts are not based on biology. They are political hunts, the result of pressure from ranchers, who rarely lose livestock to wolves, and from hunters, who believe that only they should be allowed to kill the elk on which the wolves feed. Problem wolves that kill livestock should be destroyed. But until scientists can determine how many wolves are needed to sustain a thriving population across the Northern Rockies, the hunts must end.
Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company
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