Saturday, May 03, 2008
37 Yellowstone National Park Wolves Shot Dead
The restoration of the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies is one of America's greatest environmental success stories. Wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone and the central Idaho wilderness in 1995 after being exterminated by settlers, trappers and the federal government. Since then, these new populations have increased to 1,500 or so animals. Wolves play a crucial role in the ecosystems of the Northern Rockies, helping to preserve riparian forests and maintain healthy populations of raptors and coyotes. They are also a boon to the region's economy, generating tens of millions of dollars in tourist revenue each year.
But Rocky Mountain wolves are now in grave danger. In March 2008, idiots in the Bush Administration stripped gray wolves in Greater Yellowstone and across the Northern Rockies of endangered species protection. Earlier in the year, these same idiots in the administration issued a new rule allowing the slaughter of hundreds of these wolves. Entire packs of wolves could be gunned down from airplanes in minutes. In fact, the federal government has already spent our tax dollars to buy two planes for the purpose of aerial gunning. 37 wolves have been shot dead in the past month.
Both Idaho and Wyoming have made it clear that they intend to take their wolf populations down to minimum levels. In Idaho, the governor himself boasted, "I'm prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf myself." The Bush Administration's new rule would allow Idaho to realize its dream of killing every last wolf -- 60 in all -- in the Clearwater River wilderness region. Ultimately, the state wants to kill up to 85 percent of its approximately 780 wolves. Even pups will be killed.
Wyoming's plans are equally brutal. The state classifies wolves as "predatory animals" in most of the state. As predators, wolves could be shot on sight anywhere by anyone at anytime. In the 80 percent of Wyoming outside the Yellowstone area, wolves will now be killed in unlimited numbers -- with no licenses or permits required.
By authorizing these wolf killing plans, the Bush Administration is catering to the hunting community, which wants the ease of hunting elk in the same places and in the same numbers that they've grown accustomed to. Yet, elk populations are at all-time highs across the Northern Rockies and above objectives in all three states. In fact, the game and fish agencies in the region are taking steps to reduce their elk herds.
Wolves are being targeted because of a few cases where elk herds have declined. But these declines have been caused by many factors, including drought, shrinking habitat and human hunters -- not just wolves. Under the Bush Administration's plan, wolves alone will be blamed for any and all declines in a few elk populations. And that will be grounds enough for shooting and trapping hundreds of more wolves across two states. Wolves will be killed for doing what they are supposed to do: maintain a healthy ecosystem by preying on elk.
Instead of killing wolves, Wyoming and Idaho should be redoubling their efforts to protect them in the face of mounting development and other habitat destruction. The Bush Administration should protect wolves under the Endangered Species Act until the states have plans in place to ensure that wolf populations will flourish in the future. They should make certain that connections are maintained between the three populations in the Northern Rockies so that these populations remain genetically healthy. These ecological bridges are increasingly important as rural sprawl and industrial development continue to fragment wolf habitat throughout the region.