Gray Wolves Should Be Removed from the Endangered Species List

11 November 2016

This was no easy task. After a period of time throughout history when, next to humans, wolves were the most widespread mammal in North America (Threatened), the gray wolf attempted to endure the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries as a highly sought after game animal. Usually ranging between 70-115 pounds and hunting in packs (Threatened), these formidable predators are able to prey upon large hoofed animals such as moose, elk, and deer, not to mention domesticated cattle or even sheep. This fact, in addition to their highly valuable pelts, placed them in the foreground of the minds of hunters, trappers, and ranchers for over a century. So intense was their targeting, however, that gray wolves were nearly exterminated from North America by the 1930’s (Pletscher p. 459).

This prompted their placement onto the Endangered Species List in 1974, and an eventual re-introduction program in 1995 and 1996 (In Danger). This program focused on two areas: Yellowstone National Park and Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. After 22 years of being on the brink of extinction, wolf populations now number almost 1300 in the northern Rocky Mountain region alone (In Danger). This, however, may be a blessing in disguise. With gray wolf populations on the rise, western ranchers are becoming concerned for the well-being of their livestock, and in turn, their own livelihood.

Many of this countries’ western ranchers support themselves, and at times their extended families, exclusively through the sale of their livestock. With each animal bringing in between $1000-$9000 at auction (Cattle), the loss of a single cow to predators could be financially devastating. Some of the ranchers that are lucky enough to own property that is desirable to hunters subsidize their income by allowing them to use their lands for a fee. Coming from all over the world, these sportsmen and women claim trophy sized animals, the likes of which cannot be found nywhere else on the planet. Hunters, naturally, are looking for areas with high population densities of large deer and elk. They, however, are not alone in their quest to find a prize animal. With the number of wolves that call this same land home, competition with humans for elk and deer is fierce. According to an article in The Economist, “elk make up about 90% of wolves’ diet in the greater Yellowstone region” (In Danger). However, outside of the park, where animals aren’t protected and elk and deer herds aren’t as large, the impact of a wolf pack is much more severe.

Big game animals (like deer and elk) make up a very important part of the ecosystem. While we can monitor and control the number of animals that can be taken for sport, hands are tied when it comes to the devastating impact of the ever increasing number of wolves. In these same areas, where the human presence is much more prevalent, wolves are sometimes looking elsewhere for their next meal. Research taken from this same article in The Economist shows that in 2006 alone, “wolves in the Rockies killed 170 cows, 344 sheep, eight dogs, a horse, a mule, and two llamas” (In Danger).

With maximum penalties of $50,000 in fines and up to one year in prison for killing an animal protected by the Endangered Species Act (Endangered p. 35), the risk for ranchers and hunters to address the problem themselves is far too great. Yet even after the Deputy Interior Secretary, Lynn Scarlett, said that wolves are “biologically ready to be delisted,” (Knickerbocker) we still have to endure their protection. In order, you see, for a species to be removed from the endangered list in a given state, that state must have specific management plans in place (NRA).

There are two states that are excellent examples of these potential plans. In both Idaho and Minnesota, state officials have proposed ways to transition the gray wolf off of the endangered species list. Idaho plans to treat the wolf similar to the way they treat mountain lions and bears. According to the Idaho fish and game commission, the limits on the number of animals that may be taken are raised and lowered according to the populations of both predators and prey (Barker/Philips). If officials see the number of Elk decreasing, they can increase the number of permits awarded for lions and bears.

Similarly, if the numbers of predators are becoming too low, the number of permits can be decreased. Livestock issues can be treated in this manner as well. Permit numbers can be adjusted to control the number of mountain lions and bears that come in negative contact with domesticated animals. Minnesota has another interesting plan. Minnesota plays host to one of the nations largest wolf populations (Gray). Here, a program run by the state allows for limited monetary compensation to ranchers who can unequivocally prove that they have had an animal killed by a wolf.

Both of these ideas show just how logically the issue can be approached if the wolves’ control is delegated to the states. There are opponents to this idea, however. Some of which have plans of their own. While most Environmentalist groups will agree with the fact that wolf populations are on the rise, very few are willing to admit that they are ready to be removed from the Endangered Species List. Many of these groups believe that the animals on the Endangered Species List should be there permanently, regardless of how successful a re-introduction plan may be. There are, however, some groups that have taken steps that will help ranchers.

One group, Defenders of Wildlife, has adopted a strategy similar to Minnesota’s, whereby ranchers may be reimbursed if they can prove that they have had their livestock killed by wolves (Gray). Just like in Minnesota, this is an excellent idea. However, without the financial backing of the government, and relying heavily on donations, this plan just will not be feasible for a private organization. Another argument that groups like this have voiced is that de-listing the wolf, or any animal for that matter, only encourages the state to bring the animals’ numbers to the listed minimum levels.

While this may end up happening, these minimum levels have been established by the same organization that listed the animal in the first place. If we trusted these experts to determine what level the populations needed to sink to in order to be considered endangered, should we not trust them to determine the minimum number of animals needed to be considered viable? And since we have these accurate figures, we can feel comfortable that, even at minimum levels, wolf populations, as well as their prey, would be able to prosper.

Important too is that livestock can be properly raised without constant fear of these vicious predators. So are we prepared for wolf populations to continue their steady trend towards increasing numbers? Should ranchers continue to have to abide by their unspoken credo of “shoot, shovel, and shut up” (Neville), or are we ready to accept the fact that wolf populations have finally reached the point where we can cease to consider them threatened? We can clearly see the impact that these fierce predators are having on our nations ranchers. This is an influence that will undoubtedly be passed on to the consumer.

And for those consumers who don’t understand the dread that many ranchers feel towards the idea of losing their livestock to predators, Lloyd Knight, the executive director of the Idaho Cattle Association, may have said it best when he was quoted in The Idaho Statesmen as saying: “for those that don’t think that delisting is a good idea, if they would like me to break into their home and steal a couple thousand dollars worth of property, then maybe they might understand my folks’ perspective on wolves”

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