The Failure of Wolf Reintroduction
Since Europeans arrived on the continent, we’ve had a deplorable record of mistreating wildlife, and no animals have suffered more than large predators. They were just a little too competitive with us, and a little too menacing—and they were viewed as impediments to national security, in a country with expanding borders and settlement on its mind. We decided to kill them rather than to cohabitate. In the 19th and 20th centuries, we slaughtered grizzly bears and wolves by the tens of thousands, reducing their range to a sliver of what it once was in the coterminous states, with remnant populations of grizzlies hanging on in the Northern Rockies and wolves only surviving in the Northern Great Lakes.
Starting in the 1990s, there was a noble effort to reintroduce wolves in the Northern Rockies, and many people were quick to label the effort a success. But that was a premature judgment. It’s no success. It’s a bitter and ugly failure, and so many wolves have suffered and now more are sure to suffer in the months ahead.
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But the failure has nothing to do with the quality of the habitat, the availability of prey, or the reproductive capabilities and adaptability of the wolves. The non-human environment was ideal for them, and they were already having a beneficial impact throughout the entire ecosystem. The failure has all been ours as a species, mainly because we’ve allowed the people who hate wolves to dominate the debate and have their way.
Just a few months ago, a last-minute deal during federal budget negotiations stripped federal endangered species protection for wolves, leaving wolf management to the states of Idaho and Montana. There was no debate on the measure, and it was slipped into a massive spending bill to keep the government running. Though Congress had never unilaterally removed a species from the endangered list, no senators stood in the way of this miscarriage of the process. Now we’re seeing the effects of this shameful maneuvering by a few legislators and the craven responses of other lawmakers and the leadership at the Interior Department.
Last week, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar announced plans to accept a new wolf management policy from the state of Wyoming. This reckless proposal would allow wolves to be shot on sight across most of Wyoming, even though there are only a few hundred wolves in the entire state. No species has ever been removed from the endangered list at such a low population level and then immediately hunted, no less shot on sight. This is a policy driven by ignorance and uninformed, irrational hatred of a species.
The wolves should not have been removed from the federal list of endangered species by an act of Congress, but the retrograde attitudes of political leaders in the Northern Rockies trumped all good reason and judgment. These lawmakers travel around these states, pandering to the wolf haters and taking their cues from them—exaggerating fears about the animals. The officials at the Interior Department haven’t stood up for the animals, but somehow fashioned that going along with the wolf-killing would provide some sort of political benefit, evanescent or invisible though it may be. There’s scant chance that Barack Obama is going to carry any of these Northern Rockies states in 2012, but Democratic leaders appear to hope that if freshman Montana Sen. John Tester can jump on the wolf-killing bandwagon, then maybe he can hold on to his seat.
Secretary Salazar should reverse his terrible stance on the issue. He should reject the state’s proposed management plan. The plan is not based on sound science, and it is reckless, cruel, and not consistent with the values of our nation.
Please make a brief, polite phone call today to the Department of the Interior at (202) 208-3100 to urge Secretary Ken Salazar not to compound the damage and to maintain some modest protections for Wyoming’s gray wolves. After calling, you can also send an email here.