07 May 2013


Dateline April 25, 2013 in The Los Angeles Times ~

"Federal authorities intend to remove endangered species protection from all gray wolves in the lower 48 states, carving out an exception for a small pocket of about 75 Mexican wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, according to a draft document obtained by the Times.

"The sweeping rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) would eliminate protection for wolves 18 years after the government reestablished the predators in the West, where they had been hunted to extinction.  Their reintroduction was a success, with the population growing to the thousands.

"But their presence has always drawn protests across the Intermountain West from state officials, hunters, and ranchers who lost livestock to the wolves.  They have lobbied to remove the gray wolf from the endangered list."

The Times article goes on to discuss the recent history of gray wolves in the northern Rockies and the Great Lakes region, along with the controversy aroused by the dubious science behind the proposed removal of protection across the entire continental U.S.  The FWS assertion that wolves are a rousing success story is riddled with faulty assumptions, and heavily influenced by politics rather than by biology.

For example, wolves are far from reclaiming their former range, as the map below shows (click to enlarge).  The pink area denotes wolves' historic range, while the red areas mark territory where wolves have regained a scattered, tentative foothold.  

There has been a national outcry from responsible science writers.  Noah Greenwald writes in The Huffington Post that "If it is enacted, this rule will put a tragic end to one of the most important wildlife recovery stories in America's history.  Wolves today wander just 5 percent of their historic habitat in the continental United States.  It's simply far to early to declare victory.

" .... There were once about two million wolves in North America.  Most were wiped out in the late 1800s and early 1900s as European settlements moved west and government-sponsored extermination programs were used to protect cows and sheep placed on landscapes occupied by wolves for tens of thousands of years.

" .... Following removal of protections for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains and western Great Lakes in 2011, states in these regions enacted aggressive hunting and trapping seasons that are designed to drastically reduce wolf populations.  In the northern Rocky Mountains, more than 1,100 wolves have been killed since protections were removed .... It is clear that states are going to let old prejudices against wolves drive their management, and we can't rely on them to let wolves move into new areas.  That's why it is crucial that wolves continue to get the help that only the federal Endangered Species Act can give them."

Addressing hunters and ranchers, George Wuerthner points out that not only have game (prey) animals increased in number since wolf reintroduction, but also that ranchers' claims of livestock mortality are greatly exaggerated ~ in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho, a total of 274,000 cattle and sheep were lost to weather, digestive problems, respiratory issues, calving and other causes.  Fewer than 225 animals were lost to wolves ~ 0.1 percent of total losses.

Non-lethal solutions exist for even this level of livestock loss ~ witness the guide published by Defenders of Wildlife.  The document is a valuable resource which includes ranchers' successful use of guard dogs, range riders, visual barriers, scare tools, and grazing site rotation.

And what about hunters?  Increasingly, investigators are concluding that hunting living creatures for sport is not only anachronistic, but weighted with the symptoms of severe sociopathic perversion.  Two short pieces make the point ~ Hunting Conditions Us to Killing and Wolf Hunters Admit It's All About the Sadistic Sexual Thrill.  

If the reader suspects hyperbole, take a look at this video taken of a hunter repeatedly kicking a crippled but living elk.  It is ugly to watch, but revealing. If this is the behavior shown toward game animals, imagine that sadism magnified tenfold when directed at top predators like wolves.  Yes, many hunters would be repelled by the images ~ even while denying that such behavior represents their own, carried to its logical extreme.

Here's the bottom line ~ the current wolf recovery is incomplete, even in the regions where they've repopulated.  Their population density has not reached the carrying capacity of their habitat (the availability of territory and sufficient prey).  Doing so will take generations, as younger wolves spread out to form new packs.  Their presence is necessary to a healthy ecosystem, since they prey upon the old and sick, keeping prey herds healthy and (equally importantly) on the move, thus allowing over-grazed plant communities to recover in density and biodiversity.

True recovery isn't measured in numbers, certainly not the wolf numbers wept over by hunters, ranchers, and their paid-for politicians.  True recovery is measured in the health of the entire biome.  It is characterized by a sine wave relationship between predator numbers and prey numbers.  As an example, if wolf numbers increase too much, elk will decline.  In response, wolves will produce fewer and smaller litters of pups, and elk herds will recover, again supporting more wolves.

This cycle has been documented across predator-prey relationships ~ lynx and rabbits in Canada, lions and ungulates in Africa, whales and krill in the ocean.  When enough time has passed that we humans can observe the cycle among wolves and their prey, only then can we claim recovery.  It will not be an occasion for a celebratory slaughter of wolves, however.  It will be an occasion or a celebratory toast to our having learned to co-exist with all of nature's children.

Toward that end, not only should the proposal to removed endangered species protection for the gray wolf be abandoned, that protection should be re-instated in all U.S. states where it was removed in 2011, and the licensed and unlicensed slaughter of wolves should cease.

FWS, take note.

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