Pro-wolf advocates across the entire country heaved a large sigh of relief this year when Idaho and Montana passed legislation that increased the methods and quotas for harvesting wolves in their respective states. That’s because the last thing in the world that wolf advocates want is a recovered gray wolf population. If that happens, their fundraising cash cow and propaganda program disappears faster than an elk calf at a wolf feeding frenzy.
In the 1994 final environmental impact statement for the reintroduction of gray wolves to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho, the recovery goal for wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains required 10 breeding pairs — about 100 wolves — become established in each of the three recovery areas for three consecutive years. The recovery areas were northwest Montana, central Idaho and the area around and including Yellowstone National Park. After that occurred, wolves would be removed from the list of threatened and endangered species and managed solely by the respective states and tribes in areas outside of national parks and national wildlife refuges. So a total of 300 wolves for all three areas were needed for delisting.
Wolves in northwest Montana would be allowed to recover naturally and, beginning in 1994, wolves would be reintroduced into Idaho and Yellowstone at the rate of 15 wolves per year in each area for three to five years in order to establish a viable breeding population. This occurred and, as predicted in the EIS, the wolves in all recovery areas met the 10 breeding pairs or 100 wolves threshold around 2002. What no one really predicted was how prolific wolves are at reproducing and colonizing new territory.
In a March 6, 2009, news release, Ken Salazar, secretary of the Interior under then-President Barack Obama, affirmed the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove gray wolves from the list of threatened and endangered species in the western Great Lakes and the Northern Rocky Mountain states of Idaho and Montana. As the released stated, “Today, we have more than 5,500 wolves, including more than 1,600 in the Rockies. The service believes that with approved state management plans in place in Montana and Idaho, all threats to the wolf population will be sufficiently reduced or eliminated in those states. Montana and Idaho will always manage for more than 15 breeding pairs and 150 wolves per state and their target population level is about 400 wolves in Montana and 500 in Idaho.”
The final delisting was made in 2011 and reaffirmed in 2017.
Currently, Idaho has about 1,556 wolves and Montana has about 1,150 wolves. So, as you can see, that’s about three times the target population levels and well above the recovery threshold.
Environmental advocacy is big business. Groups such as the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Humane Society, Earth Justice, etc., operate in the billions of dollars per year level. These entities, along with numerous smaller and more regional groups, rely on appeals to fear for funding and the fear that brings in a lot of money is that the wolves are threatened with extinction if you don’t make a contribution to them. Go to any one of their websites and you’ll see the contribution button to save the wolves somewhere on their page.
These groups and their members, though, aren’t interested in wolf recovery.
Earlier this year, the Montana Legislature approved a wolf plan that increased the methods and seasons for wolf hunting and trapping. Idaho legislated a similar plan, which as an aside wasn’t the correct way to do it.
In both cases, there was an immediate hue and cry from the pro-wolf advocates that all the wolves in both states would soon be killed and that court action was needed to save them. That suit has been filed and will trigger a biological review by the current administration.
Now Montana has received more than 25,000 written comments regarding its new wolf harvest regulations. The kicker is that when you read them, none of the comments decrying and opposing the new regulations say anything about establishing wolves in the writer’s own area, region or community. And these comments came in from all over the U.S., Europe and South America.
Wolves are very adaptable. At one time they roamed North America from Mexico City north into the Arctic tundra. Surplus wolves from Idaho and Montana could be transplanted just about anywhere into the northern tier and Pacific Coast states. But no one, including the wildlife agencies of California, Washington and Oregon, is advocating for the forced reintroduction that occurred in central Idaho.
And you don’t see any button or petition on any of the pro-wolf sites advocating for the reintroduction of wolves into other parts of the U.S., even though that would greatly enhance wolf recovery and reduce their “threatened and endangered” status. What the wolf advocates want is for wolves to be safely ensconced in the northern Rocky Mountain and Great Lake states, not in their backyard.
Idaho’s and Montana’s current wolf management plans aren’t going to achieve the goal of reducing the wolf populations by 90 percent down to each legislature’s desired levels. They won’t even come close.
But in a year’s time, we can expect the current administration to re-list the gray wolf as endangered in Idaho and Montana. That decision will not be based on science or the actual wolf recovery. It will occur because the wolf groups aren’t about to give up one of their major funding sources. Neither will the politicians who take their money.
Hassoldt is a field forester who lives in Kendrick.