May 26, 2021
As wolf numbers skyrocket across the West, legislation in both Idaho and Montana has been signed into law allowing for the states to control their numbers via hunting within the boundaries set by United States Fish and Wildlife Service in 2011. This sparked outrage in the anti-hunting and animal rights communities, driving them to attempt to leverage Interior Secretary Deb Haaland to take emergency measures that could put wolf hunting on hold in these states.
Anti-hunting groups including the Humane Society, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club seem to disagree with the fact that hunting is conservation. Their urgency for over-protection seems to be stemming from the recently passed legislation that allows shooting guns from helicopters, hunting with night-vision, and effective trapping methods in the form of snares.
Idaho’s and Montana’s legislative directives to kill wolves by nearly any means possible seriously endanger wolf populations in the West,” said Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service should immediately return Endangered Species Act protections to these wolves to halt the impending statewide slaughters before it’s too late.”
The three animal-rights groups have filed a legal petition asking the Interior Secretary to act quickly as to halt the management practices before they take effect on July 1st of this year. As we have seen already since her confirmation in March, Haaland is not afraid to take controversial steps to limit and control hunting.
The new regulations for wolf management were spurred after years of attempted management to keep wolf populations at sustainable levels. While Idaho proposed the need to remove 90% of the population, it is completely science-based, as the wolf population and—under current regulations—has continued to grow well over the management goal. When introduced to the state, federal management objectives were set at 150 animals. The numbers now well and exceed 1,500 and remains stable—according to recent Fish and Game surveys.
“Today, gray wolf populations actually exceed the population goals set forth in the ESA,” said W. Laird Hamberlin, CEO of SCI, after the delisting of gray wolves in the Midwest. “The delisting was a scientific determination by wildlife professionals that wolf numbers were strong and growing and, therefore, management of the wolves could and should be turned over to the appropriate state and tribal wildlife agencies.”
The anti-hunting groups who oppose the advice of wildlife biologists are painting these pieces of legislation as an uncontrolled slaughter of wolves in the states. This is simply not true. What they have failed to realize is that full federal protections for the preservation of the species can in fact be harmful to other animals, humans and livestock—a leading concern in Idaho. They also fail to understand that these numbers are set by biologists who determine what the ecosystem needs and how many wolves are needed to maintain a breeding and sustainable population.
Montana’s new law also seems drastic to the anti-hunters. The now-legal methods of hunting have the potential to remove up to 85% of the state’s population. Although this seems dramatic, the population needs to maintain, at a very minimum, 15 breeding pairs of wolves. These are numbers that the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officers and biologists fully protect and monitor.
"It wasn't to reduce them to zero, it was to reduce them to a sustainable level," said Greg Lemon with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. "We've got the track record and the statutory framework to ensure they are managed to that sustainable level."
Safari Club International (SCI) along with The National Rifle Association (NRA) recently halted a lawsuit seeking to reverse the decision to delist gray wolves in the Midwest—a big win for conservation and hunting. It looks like these two groups may have another fight on their hands here soon.
With calls for Haaland to act before the new regulations take effect, we should be seeing the measures taken within the next month. Although, even if the petition is granted, this story won’t be over for some time to come. Unfortunately, the overly politicized Wolf Wars will continue. As hunters, it’s our responsibility to educate those around us on the differences between conservation practices and full-blown preservation policies. Conservation requires much further research, hands-on management and hard choices; yet it always has—and will continue—to prove more beneficial for the species as a whole.