Published: August 21, 2012
The recovery of the gray wolf in the Rocky Mountain West is one of the Endangered Species Act’s great success stories. Hunted nearly to extinction, wolves were reintroduced to the region in the 1990s and have since staged a remarkable comeback, thanks to federal protections. But whether this story has a happy ending will depend on the federal government’s willingness to monitor, and revise if necessary, wolf management plans it has agreed to in Idaho and Montana and is about to strike with Wyoming.
Wolves in Montana and Idaho lost their endangered species status last year. Interior had concluded that both states had developed management plans that would keep wolf populations at healthy levels.
The delisting has led to the death of hundreds of wolves in sanctioned hunts. But at least Montana and Idaho established limits on hunting seasons and on the number of wolves that can be taken across the entire state. In Wyoming, by contrast, wolves in four-fifths of the state will be essentially treated as vermin that can be killed at any time, and for almost any reason.
Interior says not to worry. Most of Wyoming’s wolves are in the state’s northwest corner, it points out, and can be shot only during a defined hunting season. Further, the state has agreed not to reduce the statewide population below 150 wolves and 15 breeding pairs.
This is a more protective plan than Wyoming’s politicians, ranchers and hunters wanted a year ago. But whether it’s enough to guarantee a sustainable population is far from clear. Interior has promised to review its deals with Montana and Idaho after five years. It must demand the same of Wyoming. The question there is whether, after five years, there will be any wolves left to review.