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October 01, 2012

Wyoming’s Wolves in Trouble

It’s been a bad two years for wolves, with the federal government de-listing them from endangered species protection throughout their range in the Northern Rockies and the Western Great Lakes, and turning over management to trigger-happy state wildlife officials and politicians. It’s a particularly bad day for gray wolves in Wyoming, because today marks the start of the state’s first wolf hunting season in decades.

This is a good story gone awry, with the excitement once associated with the reintroduction of wolves in the Northern Rockies in the 1990s having now turned into pathos, as federal protections have been stripped away and hundreds of wolves have been shot or trapped at the behest of state authorities—with lots more carnage and killing expected in the weeks ahead. Although litigation brought by The HSUS and other organizations had stalled each previous attempt to de-list wolves in the Northern Rockies, the Congress last year enacted a rider to remove federal protections for wolves in Idaho and Montana. Because Wyoming state authorities had such a retrograde plan for wolves, the rider did not apply to wolves there—but it was just a matter of time before things regressed there, too.

Gray wolf
iStockphoto

Subsequently, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials agreed to meet directly with the state’s congressional delegation and governor to discuss delisting wolves. The federal government seemed hell-bent to accommodate them, even though officials there made it clear they intend to allow widespread killing of wolves.

On Friday, The HSUS sent Secretary Kenneth Salazar and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service notice of our intent to sue the agency over that decision. The hostility toward wolves embodied in Wyoming’s wolf management plan is reminiscent of a time when bounties paid by state and federal governments encouraged widespread hunting, trapping, and poisoning of wolves that nearly wiped out the entire species from the lower 48 states.

Wyoming’s wolf management plan designates wolves as “predators” across the vast majority of the state. This designation subjects wolves to unrestricted hunting and trapping and allows wolves to be shot on sight, even though there are only a few hundred wolves in the entire state. This policy—driven by ignorance and hatred of a species rather than basic principles of conservation or animal welfare—promotes contempt for wolves and give wolf-haters so much free rein.

Save for a few superficial changes, Wyoming’s current plan contains many of the same flaws that a federal court had previously found left wolves in “serious jeopardy.” It also contains many of the same inadequacies that the Fish and Wildlife Service itself has previously deemed insufficient on multiple occasions. It is a terrible capitulation by the federal government, and it’s hard to explain why it’s happened.

We’ll do our best to stay this expansion of wolf killing. Anti-wolf zealotry is alive and well in too many parts of the country. The wolf is one of North America’s most majestic animals, with ties to early humankind. In these interactions with Paleothic wolves, in fact, our everlasting bond with animals was formed. Reintroduction efforts honored that ancient past; the eagerness of some people to kill a new trophy animal does not. 

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