Sunday, September 6, 2009

Northern Rockies Wolves: once again under the gun

Wolves are under the gun again, literally.

Until recently, Northern Rockies gray wolves had been on the Endangered Species List and therefore protected from extermination. While their numbers had been recovering, many conservation organizations felt the the government's decision to remove the wolf from the endangered species list was premature. It was questionable as to whether there are sufficient number of breeding pairs. But, with the increasing numbers there is the inevitable occasional loss of livestock, and so the future fate of the wolf was put into question once again as pressure mounted to find a way to placate ranchers with some sort of "acceptable" sustainable population figure.

Unfortunately, it was decided that the magic number was to be less than the current population. In August, it was reported that Idaho was issuing over 10,000 hunting licenses for the taking of 220 wolves - out of a population reported to be somewhere between 846 and 1,000. Conservation organizations rallied their legal forces to reinstate the wolves' former status and a final decision is in the hands of a judge as to an injunction against the Idaho hunt.

But in the meantime, the hunt has begun and the first kills have been reported.

And the issue is spilling over into other states. Montana is preparing to open up wolf hunting on September 15th. And there has been concern emanating from Oregon where a very small number of wolves exists, a fledgling splinter group from the larger Northern Rockies population. Conservationists are concerned that, with the reduction of wolves through open hunting, the populations ranging across all these states will be threatened due to a lack of mating prospects and lost continuum of a healthy genetic pool.

Interestingly, this is the same issue expressed regarding the loss of oceanic predators like great whites - that the loss of one population can impact another population many miles away, perhaps a population even in so-called "protected" waters, due to a loss of the gene pool mix within these migratory animals.

According to Suzanne Stone, Northern Rockies representative of the Defenders of Wildlife, "Idaho hosts the core of the Northern Rockies wolf population, with approximately 1,000 wolves. By wiping out 220 wolves, the state will cripple the regional wolf population by isolating wolves into disconnected subgroups incapable of genetic or ecological sustainability."

"It's only a matter of time," warned Stone, "before Idaho's state legislature enforces their demand that all wolves be removed 'by whatever means necessary,' which is still the state's official policy on wolves."

Read story in Environmental News Service.

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