Government agencies are calling it "predator management" or "harvesting" but the numbers are staggering. In Idaho, from a population of 750 to 1,000, hunters are being allowed to reduce the wolf population to just 150 animals. That's up to 85% of the population - gone. Montana intends to take down 220 of their 556 to 645 wolves. That's nearly 35% to 40% wiped out. Many scientists are concerned that the reduced populations will collapse as they will be so widely dispersed that healthy reproductive patterns will be difficult to maintain. They will literally be spread to thin to sustain themselves.
How has this come about? Weren't wolves protected by the Endangered Species Act at one time? Was it the result of political lobbying by ranchers and hunters? Yes on both accounts.
As reported by James Gibson in the Earth Island Journal, "The recent anti-wolf campaign represents an extraordinary cultural and political victory by the far-right wing in the Rocky Mountains. A loose coalition of some ranchers, hunters, and anti-government zealots demonized the gray wolves reintroduced to Montana and Idaho from Canada in the mid 1990s by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. They cast the animals as huge, aggressive, disease-ridden monsters bent on ravaging livestock, elk, deer, and even people. Wolves became symbolic representations of the hated federal government. In time, both the mainstream Republican and Democratic Parties came to accept this vision of demonic wolves invading from Canada.
In April, 2011, Senator John Tester, Democrat of Montana, facing a tough 2012 reelection challenge from Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg, led a campaign among fellow Democrats to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act using a federal budget bill rider, while Idaho’s Congressman Mike Simpson did the same among House Republicans. The rider passed with little dissent, marking the first time a species has been removed from the protections of the Endangered Species Act by Congress."That's a key point in all of this: For the first time, politicians - rather than scientists - have decided whether an animal is endangered and entitled to protection under the Endangered Species Act. The danger here is not just the immediate and ongoing threat to the wolves; there are also the implications that this action can mean for a host of other species whose protection under the law might be inconvenient for some lobbyist-represented industry. Do you see a slippery slope building here? If so, you're not alone.
A long list of environmental organizations have been fighting this change in how the Endangered Species Act is wielded. There have been lawsuits and legal appeals - and there will certainly be more.
The Center for Biological Diversity reported, "The Center and its allies are in court to challenge the congressional rider that removed these wolves from the endangered species list. 'The Endangered Species Act rightly put scientists, not politicians, in charge of deciding which species get protection,' said the Center's Noah Greenwald. 'Wolves once roamed most of North America, but were wiped off the map by intolerance and persecution -- which persist today. Wolf recovery is far from complete.'"
But for the moment, gray wolves are more than important natural predators which maintain balance in the Rocky Mountains ecosystem. They're also, now, targets.
Click here to view pictures taken by Maureen Mitra of the ongoing hunt for gray Wolves.
Read more about the wolf hunts in Earth Island Journal.
Read about what is being done on the legal side in The Center for Biological Diversity.