Wolf Park’s Position on Delisting the Grey Wolf

The Top Line: Wolves are Essential.

Just last month, in March of 2019, a recent proposal to remove federal protections from the North American Gray Wolf was introduced by the United States Fish and Wildlife service. It is our belief that the removal of the Grey Wolf from the Endangered Species List imperils wolves’ long term future.

Wolf Park, along with our colleagues in conservation, supports the federal protections of Grey Wolves as an essential species. We do not stand for their delisting, and have shared our statement with the USFW.

Despite wolves in the lower 48 states being placed on the Endangered Species List in 1974, their protected status remained hotly debated afterwards, with court battles over reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone and Idaho.[1] [2] [3]  The path to recovery showed that wolf populations could rebuild themselves.  The same path showed that some people remain unwilling to tolerate the presence of wolves, or do so only grudgingly, unless extirpating wolves is illegal.[4]  Even if wolf populations are not allowed to dip below minimum numbers, the number of wolves needed in an area for the wolf population to be deemed recovered was based more on politics than on science. Those minimum numbers may not be sufficient to ensure long term survival of wolves in the contiguous United States.[5]

We have come to know many benefits brought on by presence of the wolf, despite the reputation it has unfairly earned. Below are a series of sources that we hope will combat some of the misinformation that surrounds this magnificent animal in regards to depredation and predator control.

  • There are a limited number of losses of livestock attributable to wolves.[6]
  • Hunter success in Montana is not influenced by wolves.[7]
  • Wolves represent a very small danger to humans or human activity.[8]
  • Wolves have been, and continue to be, blamed for decreases in ungulate populations.  Some decreases are more heavily influenced by other factors such as weather than they are by wolves.[9] [10] [11]
  • Wolves helped relieve ecological pressures imposed by overpopulation of ungulates (Isle Royale, Yellowstone).[12] [13]

Managing wolves by allowing them to be killed recreationally during hunting seasons, and by trapping for pelts, is less effective in controlling wolves’ conflict with humans than is the combination of non-lethal control methods with, as a last resort, targeting only individual problem wolves for death.  [14], [15]

Wolf park recognizes that some communities feel adversely affected by the presence of wolves, and we understand the need for communities control individual problems as they arise. Wolf Park supports the implementation of Non-lethal control methods, in lieu of ineffective, blanket practices. Non-lethal controls include: range riders, livestock guard dogs, fladry, RAG boxes, penning livestock during lambing or calving season so newborns can be more easily protected, and recently, training cattle to confront potential predators in ways similar to wild bison. Our friends at Defenders of Wildlife also have had success paying stockmen for letting wolves raise pups unmolested on their property. (“In fact ranchers can benefit by letting wolves live and breed on their land. “Defenders of Wildlife also established the Wolf Habitat Fund in 1992 to award $5,000 to landowners who allows wolves to raise pups to adulthood on their land” [16].) This has turned wolves into a cash crop without killing them. Farmers and ranchers who were good at using non-lethal controls, not only had the money for allowing wolves to raise pups on their land, but also had more calves or lambs that lived to grow to ideal market weight and were therefore more likely to sell at a higher price. This created incentives for increasing skill at not lethal wolf control than simply paying the cash value of any livestock killed by wolves, since those lambs and calves are usually younger, therefore smaller, and therefore of less monetary value at the time of death.

Indiscriminate hunting and trapping can change wolf behavior in ways causing negative outcomes for both wolves and humans.[17] [18] [19] Wolf packs are typically families, social predators who hunt cooperatively.  A pack which depends on wild prey for its food may leave domestic livestock unmolested.  Hunting licenses are issued to kill any wolves in unprotected areas, not to limit kills to specific classes of wolves or to problem individuals.  As the late Gordon Haber pointed out, if you removed the best players in a basketball team and replaced them with rookies, the team would be very unlikely to have a championship season for a while.  A pack which suffers the loss of its best, most experienced hunters, at the hands of humans, may not be able to hold their territory.  The young wolves who did not “finish an apprenticeship” with experienced hunters of their family may be more likely to prey on easier-to-kill livestock.

Genetic diversity is crucial to a wolf population maintaining its numbers long term. Wolves show some inhibition to mating with their parents, offspring, and siblings. This helps prevent inbreeding with its resultant loss of genetic diversity.  About 50 years after wolves returned to Isle Royale, the wolf population dwindled despite their protected status. It is increasingly rare for new wolves to make a successful journey to the island. This meant a lack of new blood for the Isle Royale wolves’ gene pool.  As generations passed, the wolves on the island became increasingly closely related. One of the well documented effects of prolonged inbreeding is a decrease in fertility. The Isle Royale population, which had become increasingly inbred, dwindled to the point of being unable to produce enough viable pups to make up for wolves that died of age, injury, or illness.[20]  As this is being written, Canadian wolves are being captured for translocation to Isle Royale to restart a wolf population there, and help manage the resident moose population.[21]

While the wolves in Yellowstone, Idaho, the pacific northwest, Wisconsin, Michigan (the UP), and Minnesota are not confined to literal islands, the increasing human activity in areas around refuges like parks, and lasting hostility toward wolves by some humans, means that even animals that are born in a national park, like Yellowstone, face increased dangers if they travel outside the park boundaries, boundaries that are known to humans, but not to wolves.  For this reason it is important to extend some degree of protection to wolves even if they are outside designated areas–like Yellowstone National Park–where they are completely protected.

When you compare the 6000+ wolves in the contiguous United States to the 14,000+ wolves in the much smaller area of Europe, where they continue to have a good degree of protection, it makes little sense to remove all federal protections from US wolves when many states have openly stated their desire to kill enough of their wolf populations to keep wolf numbers at the bare minimum.[22]

The proposal to strip away almost all legal protections from wolves in the lower 48 states sets a dangerous precedent.  It sets the standard very low for deeming an endangered population recovered and able to sustain itself for the long term.  This precedent may not only endanger wolf populations again, or even doom them in the lower 48 states, it may also negatively impact conservation and recovery efforts across the country for other endangered species.

The Bottom Line: The future of wolves under this proposal is uncertain. Wolf Park supports their continued protections; The USFW has allowed a public commentary period for you to share your thoughts on this pending legislation up until May 14th, 2019. Click the link below to share your voice and read the proposal in full. 

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removing the Gray Wolf (Canis lupus) from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife – Docket Number: FWS-HQ-ES-2018-0097-0001

Further Reading and Wolf Sources
14) What happens to a pack when the alpha male or female is killed?

1. www.livingwithwolves.org/wolf-issues/the-political-debate/
2. defendersblog.org/2015/01/reintroducing-wolves-yellowstone-idaho-20th-anniversary/
3. www.animallaw.info/cases/species/wolves
4. www.goshen.edu/bio/Biol410/BSSpapers99/rachelmg.htm#Noceker
5. www.fws.gov/home/wolfrecovery/pdf/Final_Review_of_Proposed_rule_regarding_wolves2014.pdf
6. http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1081&context=icwdm_usdanwrc
7. scholarworks.montana.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1/1450/HazenS0512.pdf?sequence=1
8. www.wolf.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/Are-Wolves-Dangerous-to-Humans.pdf
9. http://www.timberwolfinformation.org/info/11pcontrl.htm
10. defenders.org/gray-wolf/fact-vs-fiction
11. www.outdoorlife.com/blogs/newshound/2013/06/study-wolves-not-cause-wyoming-elk-decline
12. https://isleroyalewolf.org/overview/overview/at_a_glance.html
13. www.nps.gov/yell/learn/upload/YELLOWSTONE-SCIENCE-24-1-WOLVES.pdf
14. http://www.predatordefense.org/docs/wolves_Paquet_moral_disengagement_equates_to_switching_off_10-12-13.pdf
15. www.nrdc.org/experts/zack-strong/wolf-hunting-and-trapping-closures-best-determined-experts-not-politics
16. www.goshen.edu/bio/Biol410/BSSpapers99/rachelmg.htm#Noceker
17. https://news.wsu.edu/2014/12/03/research-finds-lethal-wolf-control-backfires-on-livestock/
18. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/12/141203-wolves-hunting-livestock-ranchers-endangered-species-environment/
19. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0113505
20. www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/04/extreme-inbreeding-likely-spells-doom-isle-royale-wolves
21. www.wolf.org/about-us/media/media-releases/weekend-effort-to-move-seven-wolves-to-isle-royale-a-major-success/
22. https://www.theverge.com/2014/12/18/7417521/bears-lynx-wolves-Europe-carnivores-conservation-comeback

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