The gray wolf, which once ranged all across the United States in the hundreds of thousands, now numbers only an estimated 3,700 individuals who dwell in only a few regions.
Yet the U.S. government apparently believes these numbers are strong enough to merit a reduction of federal protection, despite the objections of many conservationists who say wolves still face many threats to their long-term survival.
Officials from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently told conservationists that the agency is making plans to remove federal protections entirely for gray wolves in many regions of the country.
These ‘delisting’ plans, which could be implemented within the next year, will leave most wolves bereft of federal protection - again. And their continued survival will be in the hands of individual states, the same states that have shown these animals very little mercy.
A Brief History
The gray wolf (Canis Lupus) and the red wolf (Canis Rufus) once ranged throughout the United States, in numbers thought to be near 400,000 for the two species combined.
Think about that number for a moment: 400,000.
But from the moment European settlers first stepped foot on North America, they began large-scale eradication efforts. Federally funded eradication programs, which lasted through the mid-1900s, employed bounties, poisons, trapping, and aerial shootings.
They succeeded in extirpating wolves from all of the lower 48 states except Minnesota, where a tiny remnant population sought refuge in the great northwoods.
The gray wolf finally earned protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1974, but those protections have constantly been under attack by livestock and hunting interests. The protections, though undermined by illegal killings and continued habitat loss, have allowed wolves gradually to make their way back to parts of Wisconsin and Michigan.
Reintroduction projects have also allowed the gray wolf to begin recovery in the west and southwest.
Approximately 3,700 wolves, 2,400 of them in Minnesota, are now known to live in the contiguous 48 states, and most of the wolves outside of Minnesota exist in small, isolated populations, surrounded by lands where wolves are certainly not welcome.
What's more, the habitat that gray wolves now occupy represents only a small fraction of their historical habitat.
Substantially more suitable habitat is available in unpopulated regions of the United States where wolves have not yet naturally re-colonized and where no plans for reintroduction exist.
Gray wolf populations are currently found in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. Wolves from these states have also made short-lived forays into neighboring states such as Oregon, Washington, Utah, and North Dakota.
In places where they have been reintroduced (such as Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho), wolves were (and still are) classified as ‘experimental, non-essential,’ a designation that allows for more relaxed management, which translates into more killing.
Surely, in the vastness of North America, room can be, and should be found, for these extremely intriguing, and extremely intelligent creatures.
But it appears that sad days have truly returned once again for the beleaguered wolf.
I’ve been fortunate enough to hear the grey wolf howling in my beloved north woods; and I truly believe his howls these days are truly sad ones.
SPEAK OUT AGAINST GRAY WOLF DELISTING PLAN:
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is asking members of the public to give their input on its recently announced plans to remove all protections under the Endangered Species Act for gray wolves in the eastern United States (a region that includes the Dakotas, the Great Lakes states, and the northeastern United States).
Many conservationists and scientists consider the delisting plan to be premature because the species has not fully recovered in a significant portion of its historic range. Where wolves do exist, they continue to face serious threats to their long-term survival, including many of the same threats (such as excessive human-induced mortality) that caused them to become endangered in the first place. Delisting the wolves now is short sighted and could spell ruin for this fragile population.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Write your comments in favor of continued wolf protection and send them by November 18th to:
Gray Wolf Delist–EDPS
c/o Content Analysis Team
P.O. Box 221150
Salt Lake City, UT 84122-1150
Email: egwdelist.fs.fed.us (Please put "Attn: Gray Wolf Delisting" in the subject line of the message.)
Be sure that your letter or fax includes the agency name (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and the Regulatory Information Number of the proposal: RIN 1018-AJ03.