The deadline to file briefs in the wolf delisting lawsuit has ended. As we wait to see if Judge Molloy will hear oral arguments or rule without them, I reflected on what constitutes wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies? 2000, 4000, 6000 wolves? It occurred to me the numbers game has been the nail in the coffin for wolves ever since they were reintroduced to Yellowstone and Central Idaho in the mid-nineties. We’ve been stuck on numbers ever since. The number of breeding pairs, the number of pups, the number of packs, the number of livestock depredations. It’s always about numbers. But is it?
I challenge this paradigm. I believe wolf recovery has little to do with numbers. It’s the numbers game that’s betrayed gray wolves. The true test of recovery for wolves will be their ability to disperse across state lines, to achieve genetic connectivity among sub-populations, to overcome fragmentation and marginalization, in effect to repopulate their entire habitat that was lost to them when they were slaughtered by the federal government for agribusiness and eliminated from the West, without mercy.
And something else. Wolf recovery is dependent upon humans finding a place in their hearts for wolves to dwell, only then will they have a chance.
It wasn’t until the enactment of the Endangered Species Act that wolves began to stage a slow comeback. In the 1980’s, well before they were reintroduced to Yellowstone and Central Idaho, gray wolves dispersed on their own from Canada to Glacier National Park. They started to come home.
In 1995 and 1996 sixty-six MacKenzie Valley wolves from Alberta, Canada were released into Yellowstone and Central Idaho. The official counting of wolves had begun and has never stopped.
The map shows part of their historic home range, wolves now occupy a tiny fraction of that in the lower forty eight. Click on the map to see their current range.
A major roadblock to wolf recovery is the livestock industry, who has a stranglehold on state politics, wolves don’t stand a chance until that changes. With the approval of state “wolf managers”, Wildlife Services acts as the rancher’s personal wolf extermination service, courtesy of tax payer dollars. Likewise state game agencies hamper wolf recovery because their coffers are filled by hunting and licensing fees. They cater to hunters that compete directly with the wolf for the same prey animals. Whose side do you think they will take, the hunter or the wolf ? There is no contest. The wolf loses every time.
We’ve come full circle. Wolves may be relisted by Judge Molloy, solely based on Wyoming’s recalcitrance, since even the feds know Wyoming’s “management shoot on sight plan” will land wolves right back on the Endangered Species List. It’s an awful game that’s being played with the lives of a magnificent animal that has every right to exist on this earth.
The numbers game is responsible for much of wolf persecution because at some point that magic number will be reached, whether it’s 2000, 4000 or 6000 and the killing can begin again, just as it did in 2009, just as they were exterminated the first time around. The numbers game says that wolves are living on borrowed time. That they will always be in the crosshairs. If we keep moving the numbers around, how does that help wolves truly recover?
The fate of wolves hangs in the balance. Are we willing to open our hearts and minds to allow this vital apex predator, who is an integral part of a healthy ecosystem, to repopulate their historic habitat, not just a few marginalized pockets? Or will we continue to play the wolf numbers game?
Legal fight over wolves in Northern Rockies a question of numbers
By ROB CHANEY of the Missoulian | Posted: Wednesday, February 3, 2010 11:00 pm
Posted in: gray wolf/canis lupus, howling for justice, wolf 2009 delisting, wolf recovery
Tags: wolf numbers game, delisting litigation, wolves in the crossfire
February 3, 2010