Photo credit: USFWS Endangered Species via Flickr/CC BY
The first hunting season for the once-endangered Rocky gray wolves in decades has ended, leaving an estimated total of 500 dead. According to Earth Justice, some 250 of those were killed by hunters with permits, and another 250 were killed by federal and state agents protecting livestock. There were 1,700 gray wolves counted at the end of the year, after 500 were killed--which means nearly a quarter of the entire population was wiped out. 188 wolves were hunted and killed in Idaho, and 75 were killed in Montana. The hunting season that began last year was extremely controversial, as many wildlife conservationists and biologists argued (sensibly, it seems) that the wild wolf population should be allowed to stabilize at somewhere between 2000 and 6000 before hunting be allowed.
It's been a long and ugly battle to try to protect the wolves, which were hunted to the brink of extinction by the 1930s. Reintroduced into the wild in 1995, their populations slowly grew, making the wolves one of the great US conservation success stories. Then, just five years later, people decided they wanted to hunt them again.
There were myriad court battles, and the wolves eventually got delisted from the Endangered Species list, relisted by the courts, and delisted again by the Bush administration. Ken Salazar, the Secretary of the Interior in the Obama Administration, finally decided to uphold Bush's delisting, and presto! The wolves were fair game to hunt in Montana and Idaho (but not in Wyoming, where numbers were still too few).
And even though 500 out of 1600 seems to be a pretty sizable chunk of the population, the grim part is that it could have been worse--the hunting seems to have hewed pretty close to the limits, and it certainly raised my eyebrows that 6,000 licenses had been issued in Idaho before the season began.
Yet the stability of the species is still in question--Earth Justice is continuing to lobby for the wolves' protection, as they explain:
Last fall, a federal judge agreed with Earthjustice lawyers that the hunts likely are illegal, but he nonetheless allowed the hunts to proceed. The first wolf kill in Idaho occurred Sept. 1, when the season opened. Montana hunters started banging away at their wolf population on Sept. 15, nearing that state's harvest limit of 75 so fast that the season abruptly ended in November.For a comprehensive look at the battle to bring the gray wolves back to a healthy population, check out Earth Justice's interactive timeline.
Earthjustice, representing 13 conservation groups, is continuing its court challenge to the delisting in U.S. District Court in Montana. The suit seeks to restore Endangered Species Act protections to the wolf until wolf numbers are stronger, migration corridors are protected, and the states develop adequate laws and regulations to protect wolf populations from extinction.