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For Immediate Release, August 23, 2012

Contact: Michael Robinson, (575) 534-0360

Montana to Give Wolf Management to Federal Agency With Legacy of Wolf-killing

SILVER CITY, N.M.— The state of Montana is proposing to turn most day-to-day management of wolves over to Wildlife Services — the same U.S. Department of Agriculture agency responsible for exterminating wolves throughout the West before they gained federal protection in the 1970s.   

In a draft protocol released this month to address wolf-livestock conflicts, Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks proposes transferring its authority to decide which wolves will be killed for livestock depredations to Wildlife Services, the federal agency that has killed millions of animals — including thousands of wolves — as part of its work to eradicate and suppress animals considered livestock predators or agricultural pests. The state would retain jurisdiction over public hunting seasons; unlike citizen hunters, Wildlife Services is not limited in where, or how many wolves, it can kill.

“Montana proposes to hand over key decisions on wolves, including how many will survive above a barebones minimum number, to the very federal agency that originally wiped out the West’s wolves,” said Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity, a group that has advocated for western wolves for more than 20 years. “With no one looking over its shoulder, a secretive branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, partially funded by the livestock industry, will once again serve as prosecutor, judge and, most especially, executioner.”

According to the proposal, Wildlife Services will respond directly to ranchers’ complaints of cattle killed by wolves and could initiate aerial gunning of the animals it deems guilty, informing Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks of how many it has killed only later. Wildlife Services is funded not only by federal appropriations but by matching funds from livestock associations and/or the state and local counties.

Wildlife Services’ only constraints would come if the wolf population drops below 150 animals or 15 breeding pairs. At the end of last year, 653 wolves, including 39 breeding pairs, survived in the state.

A series of investigative articles this spring by Sacramento Bee reporter Tom Knudson found that just since 2000, Wildlife Services has killed millions of animals using methods that are inhumane, illegal and ignore science. In his 2005 book Predatory Bureaucracy: the Extermination of Wolves and the Transformation of the West, the Center’s Michael Robinson documented multiple instances of the agency circumventing or outright breaking rules intended to protect wildlife.

“Putting Montana’s wolves fully in Wildlife Services’ hands will mean two things,” said Robinson. “More wolves will die, and fewer people will know why.”

As a result of hunting and trapping in Idaho and Montana that was intended to drastically reduce wolf numbers, 545 of the 1,900-plus wolves in the two states have been killed over the past year. Additional wolves have been killed by Wildlife Services under criteria loosened since the removal of wolves from the endangered species list in May 2011.

In its decision last year to circumvent the Endangered Species Act and delist wolves by attaching a rider to a budget bill, Congress bypassed the Act’s requirement to adhere to the best available science. Federal courts had previously ruled that wolf delisting was illegal because the Fish and Wildlife Service disregarded scientific findings that wolves in Yellowstone National Park could become genetically isolated and that the wolf population still occupied only a small portion of its historic range.

Wolves are vital to their ecosystems. By deterring elk from browsing on cottonwood sprigs in low-visibility areas alongside rivers, the return of wolves has resulted in more streamside trees, benefitting beavers, fish and songbirds. By controlling the numbers of coyotes, the presence of wolves has led to increased numbers of foxes and pronghorn. Wolves also provide carrion from their leftovers, which is relied upon by scavenging animals such as badgers, eagles and bears.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 375,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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