Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Delisting the Gray Wolf

Yesterday, January 29, 2007, the United States Federal Government delisted the gray wolf in the lower 48 states. Since 1974, the gray wolf has been protected as either “threatened” or “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act. But today, that protection is gone.

As Americans populated the continent, they saw the gray wolf as a threat and competitor. Whether it was wolves preying on naive domestic animals, hunting prey humans wanted for themselves or because wolves would not relent to human domination, these top predators were exterminated from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In California, the last known wild wolf was trapped in Lassen county in 1924.

Since an experimental reestablishment of wolves began in Yellowstone National Park in 1995, there have been avid supporters and vitriolic opponents. While the humans debated, the wolves multiplied and reestablished balance in the ecosystem. In short, they did what humans could not. They controlled the elk population by eliminating the sick and weak. They resurrected damaged plant communities by reducing an overabundance of browsers. And they helped a growing list of species recover in the Park–song birds, beaver, fox and others–because of the improvement to the habitat.

But while the Park was returning to a wild balance, wolves were leaving to colonize beyond its boarders. In Minnesota and Wisconsin, Canadian wolves were crossing the boarder to colonize the areas, long devoid of top predators, that offered prime habitat. While the movement of these wolves is good for the natural environment, human fear of a top predator has again taken over rationality.

Now that the gray wolf is no longer designated as an “endangered species,” states will be able to “manage” wolf populations as they see fit. Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin will decide if wolves will be protected, shot on sight, poisoned, trapped or shot with a license as trophy game. Residents of Alaska have been trying to express their desires to their public officials for years regarding rational treatment of their wolves, yet despite votes to stop it, gray wolves are still shot from planes because of the power of the hunting lobby.

What will be the fate of the gray wolf in the 21st century. Will 21st-century humans use their intellect to learn to live with a top predator for the betterment of the land and ecosystems or will we react with primal fear and greedy short-term gain to once again drive the wolf to near extinction?

Is living with a large predator difficult? Yes. But we conservation-minded Americans expect Africans to share space with the African lion and Indian villagers to find ways to live with the Bengal tiger. We haven’t pressed as hard to save gray wolves in Europe or Mexico. Maybe it is because we secretly know it would be hypocritical.

All of our eyes should be watching these states where wild wolves are now in the cross hairs. The Great Lake states have been allowing their wolves to recover naturally, the Rocky Mountain states seem poised to stop wolf recovery.

Will we repeat the bloody past or will we find ways to live beside America’s top animal predator? We should all be ready to speak up.


freeID said...

Unless you've SEEN the damage the wolves have done to Elk/Deer populations in ID, MT and WY your opinions don't hold water. They've negatively affected other predator groups as well. Most of the folks 'crying' wolf don't live in the affected states and probably never spend anytime out in the wildneress with these animals in the first place. Fact is, "attempting" to control the pop. thru delisting will give them a healthy fear of man which they currently do not have. The same applies to Grizzly bears. Another fact "the unknowing" overlook is that wolves hunt for food AND SPORT. This is unique amongst the predator groups competing with the wolves. Elk/Deer populations cannot support this behavior. That is why they must be brought in check, just like human hunters. The wolves that were reintroduced were not the native rocky mtn strain. They are a much larger Canadian strain which thrive in the relatively mild climate of the lower 48's. At this point, they are having a free-for-all. A majority of the folks in favor of delisting don't want them eliminated, just brought in check. The wolves will be fine and aren't going anywhere. Please stop crying and go back to your latte's.

Keri Dearborn said...

Yes, healthy wolf populations reduce populations of ungulates and competing predator populations. We have gotten used to a world out of balance and without its natural large predators. But have no fear, humans will continue to hunt more deer than wolves. Elk and deer populations have been over foraging many ecosystems for over a century. That has been scientifically documented in the Yellowstone ecosystem. I live within a mountain lion's home territory, but I know that is not the same as a pack of wolves. Problem solving requires valuing all stakeholder needs from ranchers and wolves, to song birds and willows. Belittling honest voices is a sign insecurity.