The West’s wolf problem started in 1995 and 1996. That’s when 66 wolves from Canada were reintroduced in Idaho and Yellowstone National Park.
Those wolves multiplied and spread into Wyoming, Utah and Oregon. They also took up residence in Washington state and Montana, where other wolves from Canada already lived. Today at least 1,674 wolves live in 321 packs within the region, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. That’s in addition to the 65,000 wolves living in Canada and Alaska.
One does not have to be a wildlife biologist to see the gray wolf is not an endangered species in any sense of the word.
The rapid spread and population growth of the gray wolf is proof that it is here to stay. Across the West, the wolf has established itself as a top predator. Where once there were no packs, hundreds now thrive. That’s in addition to a thriving wolf population across the upper Midwest.
The Fish and Wildlife Service has floated a proposal to take the gray wolf off the list of endangered or threatened species in the West. That follows the lead of Congress, which in 2011 took the wolf off the list in Montana, Idaho, eastern Washington, eastern Oregon and north-central Utah.
Today, it is ranchers who need protection, not wolves. While some wolves seem content to leave livestock alone, others see a flock of sheep or a herd of cattle as a walking buffet line. Wolves killed more than 250 sheep and about 90 cattle last year alone in Idaho. Working together, wolves can easily take down the largest steer or the smallest lamb. They torture the animal, tearing at its backside before eating it.
In the meantime, the other animals in the herd or flock are traumatized. They don’t gain as much weight, they become afraid of all canines, including guard dogs and cattle dogs, and they are harder to manage.
All of which costs ranchers money. While several programs indemnify ranchers for dead sheep or cattle and help with the expenses of fladry — flags — range riders and other means of keeping wolves at bay, they don’t make up the full cost of allowing wolves to freely prey on livestock.
Wolves need to be managed the same way other predators are. Yes, try nonlethal means of keeping them away from livestock. But when wolves turn to attacking livestock, they need to be killed. An Oregon deal struck between the state and environmental groups appears to be an adequate compromise — as long as managers don’t let paperwork delays get in the way of protecting livestock. The compromise allows wolves four livestock attacks during a six-month period, but each must be verified by wildlife managers who then must file a deterrence plan within two weeks.
The Fish and Wildlife Service now says it made several mistakes when it first listed the wolf as endangered 35 years ago. Among them, it estimated that the historical range of the gray wolf was far larger that it actually was. It also didn’t include the Mexican wolf for protection in the U.S. southwest. The agency now wants to take the gray wolf off the list but keep the Mexican wolf in it.
We whole-heartedly support the full delisting of all wolves across the West. To spend precious federal resources protecting an animal that doesn’t need it is wasteful. Each state is fully capable of managing wolves and helping ranchers deal with them as problems arise.
Wolf listing hearings
The following hearings are planning on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposal regarding the gray wolf and the Mexican wolf:
Nov. 19: 6-8:30 p.m., Paramount Theatre, 1621 Glenarm Place, Denver, (303) 405–1245
Nov. 20: 6-9 p.m., Embassy Suites, 1000 Woodward Place NE, Albuquerque, (505) 245–7100
Nov. 22: 6-8:30 p.m., Marriot Courtyard Sacramento Cal Expo, 1782 Tribute Road, Sacramento, (916) 929–7900
Dec. 3: 6-8:30 p.m., Hon-Dah Conference Center, 777 Highway 260, Pinetop, Ariz., (928) 369–7625.