Wolf Populations Not Sufficient To Put Them On The Firing Line

This excellent article was written last year in response to the delisting of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies and the rush to hold wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana.

The author, Ken Fischman, is “a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a retired geneticist and member of the Northern Idaho Wolf Alliance. He lives in Sandpoint, Idaho.”

I’m re-posting  it because it makes so much sense compared to the sea of lunacy surrounding wolves. 

“Common sense tells us that a few hundred wolves in each state can’t be defended as a biologically viable population, yet legislators and wildlife professionals keep trotting out these figures as though they were holy writ to justify their insistence that wolves must be hunted. The latest federal report says that there are 846 wolves in Idaho, 497 in Montana and 302 in Wyoming. The best minds in conservation biology — the science that deals with the preservation of species — are in agreement that the full recovery of these three distinct populations requires not hundreds, but thousands of animals.”

I’m sure it won’t change the minds of haters. They seem to enjoy demonizing wolves with a decided religious fervor. It’s their “cause celebre“. For the rest of us we can recognize common sense when we read it, something the “Anti-Lupine” crowd sorely lacks.


Wolf Populations Not Sufficient To Put Them On The Firing Line

By The Salt Lake Tribune
Publication: The Salt Lake Tribune
Date: Friday, September 18 2009

The day before the first-ever official wolf hunt started in Idaho on Sept. 1, I stood on the sidewalk outside the county courthouse in Sandpoint, watching cars stream into town. As demonstrators on the sidewalk waved placards protesting the hunt, people in those vehicles reacted, and I focused on their hands, counting waves and thumbs-up as being for the wolves, and middle fingers and thumbs-down as against.

The results of my hour-long, admittedly crude poll were 128 for the wolves, 14 against. Surprisingly, truck drivers overwhelmingly sided with the demonstrators and against a hunt.

It occurred to me then that Idaho’s reputation as the most dependably conservative state might be based on a misunderstanding. But then again, where emotions are high, truth flies out the window. When you bring up the subject of wolves at a café or gas station in the nearby town of Clark Fork, you’re likely to hear people telling or accepting the most outlandish tales. For instance, many hunters insist that Idaho’s 846 wolves are devastating Idaho’s elk, even though the opposite is true. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, an organization dedicated to hunters, reported in 2009 that although Idaho’s elk population fluctuates, it has risen above 100,000 animals for several years.

Many ranchers in Idaho believe that wolves are decimating livestock. But the Idaho Fish and Game Department found that wolves are responsible for only 1 to 2 percent of sheep depredation. In fact, feral dogs killed four times as many sheep in 2008 as did wolves.

Of all the questions surrounding wolves, the most crucial — and the one that has proved most intractable — is whether the population of wolves in the Northern Rockies has sufficiently recovered to warrant their being taken off the endangered species list. Looking for the right answer is like driving down a winding mountain road in the dark, without headlights.

When the federal government brought wolves back to the West in the mid-1990s, spending some $21 million in the effort, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that the wolf population would be considered recovered when Idaho, Montana and Wyoming each had 100 wolves. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when they came up with that goal.

Common sense tells us that a few hundred wolves in each state can’t be defended as a biologically viable population, yet legislators and wildlife professionals keep trotting out these figures as though they were holy writ to justify their insistence that wolves must be hunted. The latest federal report says that there are 846 wolves in Idaho, 497 in Montana and 302 in Wyoming. The best minds in conservation biology — the science that deals with the preservation of species — are in agreement that the full recovery of these three distinct populations requires not hundreds, but thousands of animals.

That means that a hunt at this time is premature. Compare Idaho to Minnesota, a state half the size of Idaho, where there are 3,000 wolves, almost four times the number in Idaho. The Minnesota wildlife agency will not even consider holding a hunt for five years after wolves are delisted there.

Let’s put the issue in perspective. There are four times as many human beings in the tiny town of Bonners Ferry, up the road from Sandpoint, than there are wolves in all of Idaho. If hunters kill as many wolves as they plan to in this hunt, it will leave small, disconnected populations of wolves genetically isolated from each other and in danger of becoming inbred.

A few months ago, a study by Rolf Peterson of the Michigan Technological Institute revealed what can happen when wolf populations drop too low. Peterson looked at genetically isolated wolves on Isle Royale National Park, an island in Lake Superior off the coast of Minnesota. All the wolves there have deformities of their backbones, making it difficult and painful for them to run. This is due to inbreeding.

As for what happens now that hunting wolves has begun, the political battle continues. Federal Judge Donald Molloy recently rejected a request from 13 environmental groups that he block wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana. Molloy said that the plan to kill 20 percent of the wolves does not put them in danger of extermination. He warned, however, that the federal government probably violated the Endangered Species Act by leaving Wyoming out of its plan, distinguishing a natural population of wolves “based on a political line, not the best available science.” By definition, the judge added, that seems “arbitrary and capricious.”



Judge Molloy recognized the delisting as a political  move and righted that wrong. Wolves have regained their federal protections but forces are marshaling as I type this, to undermine the Judge’s decision. 

Photos: Courtesy Tambako the Jaguar (Flickr)

Posted in: Idaho wolves, Montana wolves, Howling For Justice

Tags: Endangered species act, Idaho wolves, wolf hunts, wolf persecution

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. what an awesome article. it’s concise and very easily reveals the fact that this hunt is being driven not by reason or logic, but by sheer blood lust and ignorance. and though it wasn’t mentioned in this article, i also believe money is another driving factor


    • Thanks for your input. You are the first to comment on my blog!!

      This article makes so much sense. I believe most Americans are against the hunts but a few people with tremendous influence have succeeded in de-listing the wolf and causing the chaos that is occurring now. After years of recovery, bringing the wolf back from the edge of extinction in the Continental US, we’ve started back down that dark road of pushing them to the brink.

      Minnesota has a population of 3000 gray wolves, yet few conflicts. I believe it’s because they don’t have the land dispute issues that plague the West. I hope Judge Molloy expedites his decision and rules in favor of restoring the wolves ESA protections. Until then we have to sit helplessly by and watch the slaughter take place. And yes I do agree with you that the hunts are motivated by greed and blood lust.


  2. A few years ago I stopped at an anti-wolf group’s table at a Sportsman’s Show in Boise. I recognized the two men who were handing out bumper stickers calling for the illegal killing of wolves. They were a father and son who live near an Idaho town that my brother lives in. They had been recently banned from local high school basketball games because they tried to beat up the referees after the home team lost a game.
    I think if you checked, you would find that the extreme anti-wolf folks have similar dispositions. The wolves are just a convenient scapegoat to vent their anger upon.


    • Mr.Larry Thorngren,I know this may not be the right place to say this but thank you the photos of wildlife.I enjoy gazing at them.


    • Absolutely agree Larry. I came up against this kind behavior at a roadless initiative meeting many years ago. There were yahoo’s in the back of the room yelling and screaming at people that were trying to talk on the record. It’s the same people, different issue. Complete intolerance.



  3. Unfortunately it seems to me that the mindset ignorance and intolerance referred to by Larry Thorngren is what we are up against in saving wolves. I am of the opinion that as pointed out before, they really don’t care what Judge Molloy or the ESA deems the law, they intend to take matters into their own hands. We simply have to come up with a united voice to make a difference.


    • SoCalWolfGal,I tend to agree with you that we need to unite in order to make a difference for the wolves and for other persecuted animals that are just killed by hate,with no logic or science behind it.It is rather sad, with all these environmental groups wanting to protect the enviroment,they can’t come together and form a coalition of some kind? However,we need to stick together.We are in for a rough and bumpy ride.


    • Hi SoCalWolfGal,
      The problem as I see it is there are differing opinions among environmental groups concerning wolves. For instance, I don’t believe in hunting or killing wolves for any reason, with the exception of a rabid wolf or other similar circumstances. I used to be more tolerant of hunters (not trophy hunters) but it’s the hunting groups, not just wolf hunting but many hunting groups that want wolves dead. So big name hunting groups have moved to the more radical position on wolves. Therefore I’m not interested in building any bridges with these people or making deals with them. Personally I believe we should all be supporting the Center for Biological Diversity “national wolf recovery plan.”

      It reminds me of the differences between Greenpeace and Paul Watson. Paul was a founding member of Greenpeace but left and went his own way. Paul is a lot more radical then Greenpeace and doesn’t believe in collaboration. He sticks with his convictions. Before we can even get environmental groups to form a coalition they have to agree on core values concerning wolves. You would think that would be easy but it’s not. We shouldn’t be fighting each other. But unfortunately we aren’t all on the same page. For example, I don’t agree with Defenders of Wildlife’s plan to sit down with “stakeholders” this fall to knock out some kind of a compromise. There is no reason to sit down with these people. We all know what they want. They want wolves dead. How can we make deals with that crowd and why should we? We should be using this time while wolves are protected to build a stronger core of wolf supporters that concentrate only on wolves instead of trying to play “let’s make a deal”. Just my two cents.



      • I agree with you Nabeki. It is a total waste of time, effort and money to try and sit down with this fall with “stakeholders”. That is a very nonthreatening sounding term for what amounts in the end of the day sitting down with people who want to kill wolves. I think one, it is a waste of time, and two, gives them credibility that they do not deserve.

        Even more troubling is the upfront involvement of the Safari crowd. These people have serious money and don’t really try and hide the fact that they just want to include the wolf as a big game trophy.

        I signed up for the Center of Biological Diversity’s newsletter and intend to follow them much more closely in the future. BTW I downloaded the Wolf Howl ringtone from the Center. It is awesome!! I also the Predator Defense website and think they may be someone that would be on our side.


      • Nabeki,You are right about the environmental groups. They have their own agendas and view points.The ranchers,hunters,and their fellow wolf haters do not want compromises,so why do I have to?I don’t. I won’t compromise,not when it comes to Wolves and other predators.


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