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Federal Appeals Court Upholds Wolf Delisting

Conservationists Concerned for Wolves' Future

Other contact: Wendy Keefover | WildEarth Guardians | 303.573.4898 x 1162

Pasadena, CA – The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a legislative rider that eliminated Endangered Species Act protections for Northern Rocky Mountain wolves last April. Conservation organizations had challenged the constitutionality of the rider, which contravened a previous judicial order that reinstated protections for the Northern Rockies population. Wolves are now delisted in Montana, Wyoming, and parts of Oregon, Washington, and Utah.

“We are dismayed with the Court’s decision, which failed to uphold the Constitution, sets a bad precedent, and betrays the American vision for a truly wild West,” stated Wendy Keefover, Director of Carnivore Protection for WildEarth Guardians.

WildEarth Guardians, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and Friends of the Clearwater appealed an adverse decision in the Montana District Court last August to the Ninth Circuit.

“Wolf conservation and the Separation of Powers Doctrine are of paramount concern to the public,” said Jay Tutchton, General Counsel for WildEarth Guardians. “The Court’s decision today served neither and strikes a blow to one of the cornerstones of our democracy,” he added.

Idaho and Montana have both offered hunting seasons on wolves this autumn. Hunters and trappers killed more than 500 wolves. Biologists, in peer-reviewed literature, have written that wolves in the Northern Rocky Mountains have not yet recovered and that hunting them could put their populations at risk. Other researchers warn that hunting could reduce wolves beyond their ability to recover. Killing wolves causes social disruption in wolf packs, which can cause packs to disband. Killing the alpha pair can also lead to the loss of pups from starvation.

Humans wiped out wolves in the lower 48 states by the 1940s because of misunderstanding and intolerance. Aldo Leopold and others began to signal a warning in that same time period that wolves are critical ecosystem engineers on the landscapes where they occur. The loss of these apex native carnivores can negatively affect entire biological systems.

“Priceless, wolves’ beauty and majesty is only exceeded by their value as ecosystem engineers. Wolves make ecosystems robust and ecologically diverse, but not if they’re diminished to a few remnant populations” remarked Keefover.

Background Information

Wolf Hunting in Idaho and Montana

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that Idaho had 705 wolves in 2011 (although the state claims it has 1,000 wolves). Idaho has neither set limits on the number of licenses it intends to issue to hunters and trappers, nor restricted the number of wolves that may be killed (although the state intends to maintain a population above the federally-mandated minimum of 150 wolves). Hunting seasons began August 30, 2011, and will extend well into spring 2012, making pups vulnerable to starvation and death if adult pack members, particularly the alpha pair, are killed. Residents pay just $11.50 for a wolf-hunting license, while non-residents pay $31.75. To date, Idaho has sold more than 25,000 wolf tags.

The Fish and Wildlife Service estimated that Montana had 566 wolves in 2011 (although the state estimates the total at 645). Montana has issued over 18,500 hunting licenses and set a kill quota of 220 wolves for 2011-2012. The hunting season, which commenced on September 3, 2011, was supposed to end in December, but was extended after hunters had not filled the quota in 2011. Residents pay $19 for a wolf tag, while non-residents pay $350. Wolf hunters in Montana can choose to leave wolves they have killed in the field, wasting the head, hide and carcass of the animal. 

Myths about Wolf-Livestock Conflicts in the West

Idaho claims that one purpose for wolf hunting in that state is to reduce wolf conflicts with domestic livestock, but the number of cattle and sheep depredated by wolves as reported by ranchers in the Northern Rockies is highly exaggerated. Two different federal agencies track livestock losses attributed to wolves—the Fish and Wildlife Service and the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). While the FWS uses verified reports from agents, NASS relies on hearsay from the livestock industry. The difference between their annual counts is astounding.

Idaho
•    Cattle: FWS verified 75 dead cattle, while NASS reported 2,561 unverified cattle losses, which represents a 3,415-percent difference.

•    Sheep: FWS verified 148 sheep losses, compared to NASS's unverified 900 losses, which represents a 508% difference.

Montana
•    Cattle: FWS verified 87 losses, while NASS reported 1,293 unverified cattle losses, which represents a 1,486% difference.

•    Sheep: FWS verified 64 losses, while NASS reported 600 unverified sheep losses, which represents a 938% difference.

Effects of Wolf Predation on Big Game

With the possible exception of a few geographically isolated elk herds, prey populations experience relatively minor effects from wolf predation. Elk, deer, pronghorn, and moose are affected by a suite of factors, including weather, environmental conditions (i.e., prolonged drought or too much snow), numerous native carnivores, disease, and especially, overhunting by humans. In several elk population studies conducted in and around Yellowstone National Park, biologists consistently found that human hunters had the greatest negative effect on elk populations. Furthermore, while wolves select for vulnerable age classes and diseased elk, humans select for prime age, breeding animals. Human hunters in the Yellowstone area typically killed female elk aged 6.5 years, whereas wolves killed much older, non-breeding elk that were an average of 14 years old.

The elk population that lives on the northern range of Yellowstone Park are more likely to die from human hunters than wolves. Wolves modulate their prey populations. The long-term effect of wolves on elk is most likely to hold the population at lower levels that mediate other losses from starvation, weather, and other stochastic events.

American Values, Federal Expenditures and Wolf Recovery in the Northern Rocky Mountains

The majority of Americans surveyed want to see wolves conserved. Moreover, wolf-watching tourism by 94,000 visitors to the Northern Rockies in 2005 generated $35.5 million in one year. By comparison, Montana reported that its total license revenue for wolf-hunting tags generated $325,916 in 2009 (although out-of-state hunters likely also generated several million dollars in economic activity).

Taxpayers and private donors have funded the wolf recovery program in the Northern Rocky Mountains since 1995. Taxpayers have also funded research, including Yellowstone National Park’s wolf project in the amount of $480,000 over a 5-year period. In 2009, hunters shot six members the Cottonwood Pack on the northern border of the park. Two wolves had radio collars that cost $1,500 per wolf.  The pack was destroyed and so the long-term research project abruptly ended (95% of the Cottonwood Pack’s territory was in the Park).

Wolves Affect Entire Ecosystems, from Beetles to Bears

Wolves, considered “coursing carnivores,” chase their prey over long distances. They select for vulnerable animals (aged, sick, injured), which can improve the health of prey populations such as elk. Wolves increase biological diversity where they occur. By preventing elk from loitering on meadows and fragile stream systems, wolves indirectly benefit a host of species such as beavers, songbirds, herons, and moose that are unable to compete with elk for forage. Wolves also regulate the effects of medium-sized carnivores. In the Yellowstone ecosystem, for instance, wolves have significantly reduced the coyote population, which, in turn, increased the number of pronghorn in the area. Wolves even effect soil nutrients. Soil microbes and plant quality increase in the presence of wolves because decomposing carcasses enrich soils.

Wolves will be key to ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change. Their presence buffers the effects of global warming by making carrion available year-round for scavengers such as grizzly bears and golden and bald eagles. Yellowstone grizzlies may become especially dependent on wolves with the decline of the white bark pine, a critical food source that is disappearing because of global warming.


 

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