From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 2, Number 47 - February 20, 2003
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Wolf News Roundup

by Cat Urbigkit

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced last month that in terms of wolf numbers and distribution in the Northern Rockies, wolf recovery has been accomplished. The agency estimated the tri-state region where wolves are classified as a non-essential, experimental population now contains between 650 to 700 wolves, in 41 breeding pairs. In announcing the population update, FWS stated, "Wolves can be proposed to be delisted once adequate state wolf management plans and state laws are in place in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming."

That means Wyoming's legislature is not the only one struggling with the wolf issue and how wolves should be managed. Wyoming's neighbors in the reintroduction of Canadian wolves are in a similar situation, racing to get plans and laws in place in hope that FWS will find them adequate for delisting, but finding public opposition to plans offering extensive protections to wolves even after delisting.

Montana has proposed to replace its draft wolf management plan with action by its state legislature. One proposal subject to a recent Montana legislative committee hearing would classify wolves as predators and calls on the state to sue the federal government to pay for resources lost to wolves, according to the Billings Gazette. The bill also directs state officials to initiate wolf-control actions if the federal government doesn't remove wolves from federal protections by Jan. 1, 2004, or if a court challenge to delisting is initiated.

Idaho Governor Dirk Kempthorne is trying to convince the feds to let state officials take over management of wolves now, even prior to removing the species from federal protection. But critics look to the Idaho Legislature's 2001 measure requesting the federal government remove the Canadian transplants as reason why the state shouldn't be trusted to take on wolf management.

Meanwhile, the Idaho wolf population has expanded its range from the central portion of the state, with a pack of wolves now reportedly residing in the Soda Springs area, just across Wyoming's border from Afton, and home to a large amount of domestic sheep production.

Some relief to Idaho livestock producers is now in the works, with the creation last week of a Idaho Wolf Depredation Compensation Program to compensate ranchers for unconfirmed losses to wolves and to pay for activities designed to minimize losses. Funding came from a $100,000 federal appropriation approved at the request of Idaho Senator Larry Craig and the Idaho Cattle Association.

Idaho's wildlife managers have joined neighboring states in expressing concern about the impacts to big game animals as well. The Idaho Statesman reported that Idaho Fish and Game Director Steve Huffaker told legislators earlier this month, "There's no question in our mind that wolves are having an effect on elk populations."

Those contemplating when wolves in Wyoming and other western states will be removed from federal protection need only look to the Great Lakes States for a clue.

Minnesota is the state with the most experience with wolves and wolf recovery, and has waited the longest for federal protections to be removed. In 1974, wolves in that state were listed as endangered, affording the species complete protection from persecution, but federal officials reclassified the population to threatened status in 1978, allowing federal control of problem wolves. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service adopted a wolf recovery plan for the Eastern Timber Wolf in 1978, but revised the plan in 1992.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the recovery plan set a goal for Minnesota of 1,251 to 1,400 wolves by the year 2000, a goal that was achieved in the early 1980s. Minnesota now has a population of 2,445 wolves and is still waiting for wolves to be removed from federal protection.

The revised recovery plan also tied wolf recovery in adjacent states to Minnesota's wolf population. The revised plan set a combined population goal for Wisconsin and Michigan of 100 wolves, which was achieved in 1994, and that the population must stay above 100 for at least five years, which was accomplished in 1999.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources reports that there are at least 278 wolves roaming Michigan's Upper Peninsula, growing from three wolves in 1989, and exceeding the state's goal of 200 wolves.

Michigan officials are hoping the population will be downlisted from endangered to threatened, since reclassification was to occur once combined populations in Michigan and Wisconsin reached 100 wolves for a five-year period. State officials wrote last spring, "That population goal has been met and reclassification is currently pending final federal approval."

Wisconsin DNR officials reported wolves began re-establishing themselves in Wisconsin in 1975, with at least 248 there now, in 54 packs. State officials approved a management plan with a goal of 350 wolves in the state.

Two years ago, the FWS proposed to reclassify wolf status in much of the United States. The reclassification proposed to create a "Western Great Lakes population" including the states of Minnesota, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, in which "wolves in these states would be reclassified from endangered to threatened, joining Minnesota wolves in this classification." Apparently delisting the wolves in the three states that have already achieved recovery won't happen anytime in the near future.

The impact of such a large Great Lakes wolf population hasn't gone unnoticed in the livestock industry. The International Wolf Center published an article last fall noting that nearly 60 percent of sheep producers in the wolf zone of northern Minnesota have left the sheep business during the last decade of rapid wolf expansion, which is double the average attrition rate outside the wolf zone for the same period.

The reclassification proposal would impact Wyoming as well. FWS proposed to create a "Western population" including the states of Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, Wyoming and portions of Arizona and New Mexico.

"These wolves would be reclassified from endangered to threatened," FWS reported. "The non-essential, experimental status of wolves in the Yellowstone National Park area and central Idaho would remain, and a special rule would extend similar flexible conservation and control measures to the entire Western population."

Although the reclassification of wolf populations was supposed to be a year-long process, it is now approaching the year-two mark, with no decision issued, although FWS said the decision could be forthcoming as early as this month.

Last summer, an International Wolf Center article predicted that an expanded wolf recovery area wouldn't come with expanded recovery goals, but noted that wolf advocates were already objecting to this notion for wolves in the Northern Rockies. The article also predicted that livestock producers wouldn't be satisfied either because "Livestock interests want to see federal protections for wolves completely removed, rather than lessened, in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin, as well as Idaho, Montana and Wyoming."

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