Wolf Weekly Wrap-up

THIS JUST IN…The 2010 annual wolf report was just released by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. The latest population data shows that overall wolf numbers are down slightly across the Northern Rockies from at least 1,733 wolves in 2009 to at least 1,651 in 2010. This year, 260 “problem” wolves were removed compared to 272 in 2009. Total livestock losses to wolves dropped from 193 cattle and 749 sheep in 2009 to 199 cattle and 249 sheep in 2010. For those losses, ranchers were reimbursed more than $450,000 last year.

This report confirms much of what we already suspected: the wolf population is starting to stabilize and claims that wolves are putting ranchers out of business is simply preposterous. It’s time for states to step up and commit to managing wolves responsibly, so we can move forward with a proper delisting.

Woes for wolves in Washington – You know you’re in a tough spot when wolves are under attack from both sides of Capitol Hill and both sides of the proverbial aisle. Late last Friday, the Democratic-led U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee introduced their version of the Continuing Budget Resolution, which contained the exact same rider as the Republican-led House budget bill that would strip ESA protections for wolves in Montana and Idaho. The Senate bill included far fewer cuts to environmental protections, but that didn’t stop Montana Sen. Jon Tester from tacking on the wolf provision–the ONLY rider on the entire budget bill!

Misty view of a gray wolf (Canis lupus) sitting near a tree.

Defenders issued a press release, immediately decrying the provision for selling out America’s wildlife for the sake of political expediency. Thanks to a tremendous outpouring of support from our members (THANK YOU ALL!!!), both the House and Senate budget bills were defeated later in the week, meaning there’s still time to reach a more sensible compromise that ensures continued wolf recovery in the Northern Rockies. But now Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has indicated he support any legislation to delist wolves and capitulate to Western states that are anxious to start killing wolves as soon as possible.

We still need to stand up for wolves and make our voices heard. Here’s a great example from Michael Garrity of the Alliance to Save the Wild Rockies:

“Turning over control of wolves to governors who encourage people to break federal law under the rubric of “local control” would be like turning over the civil rights problem in the 60s to the governors of Mississippi and Alabama.”

Who supports wolves and the ESA? We all do – While Congress is busy attacking wolves and undermining the Endangered Species Act, American citizens are echoing their strong support for upholding the ESA, protecting wolves and making wildlife decisions based on science, not politics. Working with the Endangered Species Coalition, Defenders helped sponsor a national poll by Harris Interactive to gauge public support for wolves and the ESA. Results indicated that:

  • 92% of respondents agree that decisions about wildlife management and which animals need protection should be made by scientists, not politicians
  • 90% agree that the ESA has helped hundreds of species recover from the brink of extinction
  • 87% agree that the gray wolf is a vital part of America’s wilderness and natural heritage
  • 87% agree that the ESA is a successful safety net for protecting wildlife, plants, and fish from extinction
  • 78% agree that the ongoing recovery of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies could be one of America’s greatest wildlife success stories IF the Endangered Species Act is kept in place until science-based state management plans are approved

In a Public News Service story, Derek Goldman, Montana representative for the Endangered Species Coalition, said this poll shows where the majority of Americans really stand on wolf recovery.

“I think there’s a small but vocal minority that’s putting out this idea that the wolf is the enemy, and this poll shows the opposite. Americans recognize the gray wolf as part of our wildlife heritage.”

A bull elk with velvet antlers in Yellowstone in early summer.

Climate change, not wolves, driver of Yellowstone elk declineA new study from Wyoming Game & Fish and the University of Wyoming’s Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit suggests that elk numbers may be influenced just as much by climate change as they are by predators. The research team has discovered that “spring green-up” at Yellowstone, the time when young grasses, flowers and forbs are the most nutritious, is being compressed considerably. Over the past 21 years, this optimal elk feeding time has been shortened by nearly a month at Yellowstone, meaning there’s much less time for the elk to fatten up and gain the necessary weight for producing healthy offspring. Combined with hotter summer temperatures, the shorter spring greening means elk cows are giving birth to fewer calves and are reproducing for fewer years. In turn, that leaves the smaller number of calves more vulnerable to predation by wolves, grizzlies and other hungry predators.

Ongoing research is essential to understanding the decline of particular elk herds around the Northern Rockies. However, Wyoming Game and Fish also reports that statewide elk numbers are still well over objective (see page 197 [A-2]). The most recent data from 2009 indicates there are more than 108,000 elk in Wyoming—a surplus of nearly 25,000.

Spate of spurious wolf bills in Oregon – Oregon has officially gone wolf crazy. At least seven bills were introduced in the Oregon legislature over the past week, including: two to prohibit the state from protecting wolves as endangered or threatened, two to expand the rights of private citizens to kill wolves, and one to cut in half the population objectives for wolf recovery.

Oregon has only three confirmed packs consisting of two breeding pairs and about two dozen wolves. These drastic measures will hinder continued recovery and undermine a solid compromise reached on the state’s wolf plan that just underwent a 5-year review.  The state should stick to the plan and reject these unnecessary bills.