Conservationists and animal rights activists were appalled at the Federal government’s recent decision to kick Wyoming wolves off of the Endangered Species List. Careful examination of wolf population statistics reveal that Wyoming ranchers may have achieved this de-listing by exaggerating statistics about wolf attacks on grazing cattle.
Wolves were once common throughout all of North America but were killed in most areas of the United States by the mid 1930s. Today their range has been reduced to Canada and the following portions of the United States: Alaska, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming. According to Defenders of Wildlife, there are an estimated 200,000 wolves left in 57 countries, compared to up to 2 million in earlier times.
Wyoming ranchers in particular have resented the wolves’ protected status ever since they were included in the Endangered Species Act decades ago. The AP reports that ranchers and hunters started complaining that wolves were taking an unacceptable toll on cattle and wildlife soon after the federal government reintroduced the species to Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s.
Since ranchers make their living raising cattle, many of which graze on the open range for several months of the year, it make sense that they would want to protect their livestock from hungry wolves. Hobby hunters are irritated that wolves follow their natural instinct to eat elk and other animals they’d rather shoot and mount on the wall. The facts, however, fail to support implications that hundreds of cattle are being senselessly slaughtered by bloodthirsty wolves on the prowl, and often extra elk hunting licenses have to be issued because herds have grown too big.
A January 2012 report from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shows that in 2011, wolves were responsible for the death of only 65 livestock (35 cattle and 30 sheep), one horse and one dog in Wyoming. In 2009 and 2010, the numbers were even lower, with 20 and 26 heads of cattle killed, respectively.
The Fed’s strategy has always been to selectively remove these aggressive wolves from the population, allowing breeding adults that don’t cause trouble to remain with their packs. The Wyoming government, however, wasn’t satisfied, and fought to take back control of wolf management operations. Now, instead of being culled responsibly by trained wildlife professionals, wolves have been given “predator” status, meaning that they can be shot on sight, for any reason, at any time, by anyone.
The Wyoming Game Commission has approved wolf hunts starting Oct. 1 in a flexible zone generally bordering Yellowstone’s eastern and southern flanks. The state is prepared to issue unlimited hunting licenses but claims it will call a halt after hunters kill 52 wolves.
Unlike Idaho and Montana, which were granted legal immunity after getting their wolf populations de-listed, the Wyoming state government is still subject to lawsuits by environmental groups. Representatives from Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council have both indicated they will continue to oppose the decision.
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