Coming Soon: A World without Wolves?

Photo of gray wolf closeup

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Wolves were rescued from the brink of extinction in the 1970s.
But in 2011 the government began stripping their protection under the Endangered Species Act, which transfered "management" to the states. As of February 2014, over 2,700 wolves had been slaughtered in just six states. Now the entire species is teetering on the brink of losing federal protection across the nation. Help us stop this tragedy!

Wolves' Future: Protection or Slaughter?

Introducing Our New Film, "The Imperiled American Wolf"

 

Wolves were rescued from the brink of extinction over 35 years ago when they gained federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. Today the American wolf is again in grave danger.

Since President Obama removed the gray wolf from the endangered species list in April 2011 and turned management of these majestic animals over to state wildlife agencies, 2,768 wolves have been senselessly slaughtered by sport hunters and trappers alone in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota, Wisconsin and now Michigan (see sport kill totals in sidebar at right). 1,158 of these wolves were killed during the 2012-13 season alone. This "kill tally" does not include the scores of wolves slaughtered by federal and state predator control programs.

The situation is now dire, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intends to remove protections for wolves across nearly the entire country. This will be disastrous for gray wolf recovery.

Our new film, "The Imperiled American Wolf," explains the reasons wolves cannot be successfully managed by state wildlife agencies: not only do their methods ignore the core biology of how wolves hunt and breed, but their funding depends on hunting and trapping fees. In fact, current wolf management may actually lead to wolves' demise. Predator Defense and this film make a bold call for federal relisting of these important apex predators as endangered species.

The war being waged against wolves is senseless and tragic, and it is up to all of us to speak out now on their behalf. Read more about how the war is playing out in different parts of the country below. Better yet, take the steps listed below to stop the slaughter.

Wolf Slaughter about to Spread Nationwide! Delisting Proposed in Lower 48 States

On June 7, 2013 the Obama administration proposed removing gray wolves from federal protection in the remaining states where they are still covered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  

 

What does this ruling mean?  In 2011 and 2012 wolves were delisted in five of the states that had managed to establish significant populations--Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Minnesota and Wisconsin.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's new proposal would allow all other states in the lower 48 to establish wolf hunting and trapping seasons with the prospect of killing any wolves that might migrate in from neighboring states.  This would essentially preclude the establishment of any significant wolf populations in the remaining states.  

The Obama administration has specifically and relentlessly targeted the American wolf.  First, under Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar, wolf populations that were thriving were delisted and put under state control where hunters and trappers systematically and indiscriminately have begun to kill down their populations, fragmenting packs and destroying the social cohesion essential to pack survival.  Approximately 25 percent of those wolves have already been killed since the 2011 delisting.  

Now one of the first actions under Obama's new Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, is to propose removing protection from wolves in all the remaining states, with exception of Arizona and New Mexico where federal protection for the Mexican gray wolf, a subspecies, will continue.  The same forces that have driven the political decision to delist wolves across the U.S.—ranching and hunting interests—are responsible for the pathetic failure to protect and restore the Mexican wolf.  The reintroduced wolves there have been repeatedly and illegally poached by hunters and ranchers, leaving only 73 alive.

The final ruling to delist wolves nationwide is expected in 2014.  The required public comment period was extended through Dec. 17, 2013. During this time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was to review and address concerns of the public and other interested parties.  Public hearings were also requested and held.

A WORD TO THE WISE: Don't expect a fair deal from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Their delisting proposal gives new meaning to the expression "a wolf in sheep's clothing."

The political takeover of what should be scientific decision making, as required by the Endangered Species Act, is epitomized by the bogus process being used by USFWS to determine the status of the gray wolf and whether the species is to be protected federally. Read more in Salon.com article, "Is the far right driving gray wolves to extinction?"

The process used by the FWS boils down to back-room deal-making between federal and state fish and game managers.  Does this sound like science driven decision making? 

Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility deserves credit for persistently digging into the process used by the USFWS to come up with their proposal to delist the gray wolf. Their work has exposed the process to be based on politics and economics, not science.  Read about the trumped up decision-making process called "Structured Decision Making." 

Not only was the delisting proposal itself strongly biased, the peer review of the proposal required by the ESA was also found to be a stacked deck.  A private contractor hired by the the USFWS to conduct the peer review was directed by USFWS to eliminate scientists who had sent a letter opposing wolf delisting.  Read August 15, 2013 New York Times editorial, "Wolves Under Review."

New, Independent Peer Review Panel Determines Government's Wolf Delisting Proposal Is Based on Outdated and Flawed Science

Spring 2014 - Believe it or not, it's still possible that conservation science, not political science, will determine the future of America's imperiled gray wolf. This means there is still hope the wolf may be able to continue to recover and expand its range into land where the species once roamed and called home.

The reason for hope is two-fold: Not only has USFWS received over a million comments on their ill-advised proposal to remove protections for wolves nationwide, but in February 2014 a scientific peer review panel rejected their proposal. 

What happened was USFWS canceled the first peer review in the wake of the scandal exposing their biased methodologies (as mentioned above). Then the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at U.C. Santa Barbara took over peer review of the delisting proposal and provided a fair, professional, and scientific analysis. The reviewers in this independent panel unanimously decided that wolf delisting is not supported by the best available science and that removing protections would be premature. The NCEAS peer review report exposes the shoddy work and bias toward hunting and livestock interests behind the USFWS delisting proposal.

As a result, USFWS opened an additional 45-day public comment period that ran February 10-March 27, 2014. Countless people submitted comments, telling USFWS they knew their initial study was flawed and taking them to task for not operating in good faith with the public by willfully ignoring, discounting, and in some cases misrepresenting the best available science.

ACT NOW! Please speak up for wolves. Here's what you can do:

1. Contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) at (800) 344-9453, or write them at www.fws.gov/duspit/contactus.htm.

2. Contact the Obama administration and your federal representatives (Senate and House) and ask them to send a message to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

3. Contact Interior Secretary Jewell: (202) 208-3100, feedback@ios.doi.gov, Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20240.

4. Sign on to the Protect America's Wolves and the Relist Wolves petitions.

5. Expand our reach by making a contribution. Any amount truly helps.

We'd like to extend a special thanks to Congressmen Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Ed Markey (D-MA), along with the 53 other federal representative cosigners, who asked USFWS to keep ESA protection for wolves. We have enjoyed a wonderful working relationship with Representative DeFazio for over two decades and greatly appreciate his dedication to exposing the abusive operations of the USDA Wildlife Services' lethal predator control program.

Removal from Federal Endangered Species List Spells Doom for American Wolves

On April 15, 2011, when President Obama signed the federal budget into law, he also signed the death warrants for hundreds of wolves. Montana Senator Jon Tester had added a last-minute wolf-killing rider to the budget bill that removed wolves from the federal Endangered Species Act and prohibited further judicial review. As a result, conservation interests are no longer able to legally intervene.

Never in the history of the Endangered Species Act has a species been delisted because of politics. Wildlife management and politics have hit a new low and established a dangerous precedent. Now management of wolves is left to states, and already state managers are opening hunting seasons on wolves who have just managed to gain a toe hold and reoccupy territory from which they were extirpated by ranching and agricultural interests just a few decades ago.

Wolf management has swung full circle in 50 years from extermination to recovery, and now back again. Free roaming packs of wolves in America will be lucky to survive, much less thrive, anywhere outside of the national parks, where they are protected.  Hunters and trappers are gaining access to those wolves as well, by lying in wait for them when they cross the park boundaries, as has happened in Montana.

Please read the following for more details:

In Wake of Delisting, Wolf Slaughter Continues Relentlessly; States Nationwide Getting Set for 2013–14 Hunting and Trapping Seasons

The "war on wolves" is rapidly spreading across America.  More aggressive hunting and trapping seasons are slated in states where wolves are already delisted.   In anticipation of nationwide delisting, other states are amping up anti-wolf actions in preparation for killing seasons. Please act now to stop this travesty

Each state is using both of their two wildlife decision-making bodies—the state legislature and the fish and wildlife commission—to put wolf-killing laws and regulations into place.  Ranching and hunting interests historically dominate state commissions and legislatures, so the playing field is not level.  It is therefore no surprise that state wildlife management decisions are based on political special interests, as opposed to science.


Utah and South Dakota Prepared to Set Wolf Seasons, Even without Established Populations
Utah and South Dakota do not have established wolf populations, but that has not stopped state lawmakers from moving bills in preparation for killing seasons.  South Dakota has reclassified wolves from "protected" to "varmint" status, meaning they will have no protections and will be treated like rodents.  Part of the state's population was included under the Great Lakes wolf delisting, the remainder will lose protection when/if the feds delist the entire species nationally. 

Like South Dakota, Utah is racing to get ready to kill wolves in anticipation of national delisting, but the sought after status there is "game animal." In the small northern corner of South Dakota where wolves lost protection when Northern Rockies wolves were delisted, no wolves are permitted to become established.

Two Years of No Protection is Killing Northern Rockies Wolves

IDAHO - Before delisting, Idaho had the largest wolf population in the Rockies, at approximately 1,000. Idaho has the dubious honor of being the biggest wolf killing state in the Lower 48.  By March 10, 2014, well into the third year of trophy hunting and trapping seasons, a grand total of 962 Idaho wolves had been killed.  Keep in mind these figures do not include hundreds killed for damage control by government and private sources.  Read more

Idaho's 2013-14 wolf season was the first to get underway, running from August 30, 2013 through March 2014. By March 10, 2014, 264 wolves had already been killed by hunters and trappers.

Idaho wolf tags sell for a bargain at just $11.50, with 5 hunting and 5 trapping tags allowed per hunter, no quotas in much of the state, and very few hunting restrictions.  For more details, visit Idaho Fish and Game.

MONTANA - Montana is fast becoming one of the most wolf-aggressive states in the nation. Both their legislature and their wildlife commission have actively worked at liberalizing wolf killing by increasing the length of the kill season, allowing the first wolf trapping season (which permits up to three wolves to be killed per trapper), and no longer imposing a statewide kill limit.  By March 11, 2014, well into the third killing season, 620 Montana wolves had been slaughtered by hunters and trappers since delisting.

In 2013 hunters and trappers even waited outside the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park to kill protected wolves, including some wearing GPS collars being studied by scientists within the park.  Among those wolves killed was the alpha female of the famous Lamar Canyon pack who was well known to and photographed by tourists.  The outcry resulted in a temporary hunting/trapping closure which was quickly overturned by the courts, and finally a law was passed making boundary areas officially open to hunting and trapping.  More legislation is moving rapidly to reduce restrictions to all predator hunting and to allow extreme wolf killing practices, such as the use of snares, electronic calls, and even the skinned carcasses of pack members as bait. For more details, read these articles:

Learn more about how Montana has ignored science to support bad wolf management decisions and sign the petition to Montana's governor to help their wolves. Details on Montana wolf hunting policies are available on the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website.

WYOMING - Wolves lost federal protection in Wyoming in September 2012, thanks to the urging of the Obama administration. In spite of the fact that Wyoming ranchers lost only 26 cows to wolves (out of a total of 1.3 million head of cattle in the state), it is not surprising that Wyoming agriculture special interest groups are controlling wolf management decisions. 

The status of wolves in Wyoming has plummeted from endangered to "predator," meaning in the majority of the state wolves can be shot on sight. Shooting, aerial gunning, trapping and just about any other kill method is permitted  on the 330 estimated wolves in the state. Even females and pups are fair game. 

By March 4, 2014 a total of 140 Wyoming wolves (over a third of the population) had been killed. This includes as many as 10 wolves killed in 2012 when they strayed from the protected boundaries of Yellowstone National Park where they were being studied. It is likely many more Yellowstone wolves will be ambushed by Wyoming hunters this season.

 

For further information visit the Wyoming Fish & Game Department website.

Midwest Gray Wolves Also Under the Gun

In January 2012, wolves in Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin were placed under the control of state managers, with frightening results. You can see the true "sporting" nature of wildlife decision-makers at work in Michigan, where hunters hurried to start the state’s first wolf season in November 2013.  Midwestern wolf advocates are taking aim at hunters and trappers to prevent or mitigate wolf-killing seasons in the Great Lakes.

MINNESOTA - Minnesota's 3,000 wolves form the largest population in the lower 48 states.  By the end of the first (2012-13) wolf season—which was barely three-months long and included traps, snares, baiting and electronic calling—413 wolves were killed, exceeding the kill quota of 400. Read more on the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources website

Because Minnesota's wolf population has declined 25 percent since 2009, the wolf kill quota for the second (2013-14) season was cut by 50 percent and approximately half the number of tags were issued. In spite of efforts to slow the killing, the season was closed by the end of 2013 (a month early), after killing 17 wolves above the newly established kill quota of 220.  

Activists are rallying for Minnesota wolves. Last year a bill was introduced that would have established a five-year moratorium on the wolf hunt.  Maybe it will pass both houses this year.  Howling for Wolves, a Minnesota advocacy organization, is largely responsible for this remarkable effort.  KEEP UP THE PRESSURE!

WISCONSIN - Wisconsin's aggressive hunting and trapping seasons have taken a toll on their wolf population, estimated at 850 before delisting.  By the close of the first season (2012-13), Wisconsin hunters and trappers had killed the entire quota of 116 wolves (plus one more). 

The second season, as aggressive as the first, closed a full two months early at the end of 2013.  257 wolves were killed by Christmas, although the quota was set at 250.  No doubt the dog hunting season, which began the first week in December, accelerated Wisconsin’s wolf-killing rate.

Wisconsin is the only state where wolves are hunted with packs of dogs.  A bill to prohibit the use of dogs to hunt wolves was introduced and supported by advocacy groups in 2012.  A legal battle around the extreme practice of pitting dogs against their wild ancestors has waged since the wolf hunt began, and it is not over yet. Read more about Wisconsin's use of dogs for hunting wolves.

Additional information is available on the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources website.


MICHIGAN - Dirty politics is keeping wolf killing going in Michigan in spite of public opposition, but it is being challenged and exposed by a dedicated group of activists.  In 2012, after 40 years of federal Endangered Species Act protection, the wolf population of Michigan was estimated at 700, with only four verified depredations on livestock by wolves in the state that year.  But the Michigan legislature passed a bill declaring wolves a "game animal" in preparation for establishing killing seasons. A coalition of activists quickly organized to launch a ballot measure to kill the wolf season and miraculously managed to collect 255,000 signatures to qualify the  referendum in a matter of weeks. 

Sadly, their efforts were undermined by anti-wolf legislators who quickly fast-tracked a bill that undercut the advocates' tireless work.  In May 2013 the governor happily signed the bill into law before the signatures could even be verified. The law allows the Department of Natural Resources to establish game animal status, thus nullifying the voters' ability to challenge the hunt because decisions made by the governor-appointed commission cannot be addressed or changed by citizens' initiatives.

Michigan’s dedicated activists have met this challenge by launching a second referendum to repeal the law and restore public input into what species are hunted and trapped in their state.  In doing so activists have discovered and exposed outrageous lies told by both legislators and wildife managers to further their wolf killing agenda.  Shockingly they also uncovered that one single rancher was responsible for claiming 80 percent of the livestock losses used as justification for the hunt, that he intentionally baited predators in with deer and cow carcasses, and that he has received thousands of dollars in compensation for his claimed losses. 

In spite of the unbalanced and biased political arena, controlled by agricultural and hunting interests, the truth and facts are coming out thanks to the dedicated and smart advocates fighting on wolves’ behalf.  GO MICHIGOANS! 

By the end of 2013 and the close of the wolf season, 23 wolves were killed by Michigan hunters.  We hope this will be the first and last wolf season in Michigan.

Future Uncertain for Washington and Oregon Wolves

State wolf management plans in Washington and Oregon do not yet permit hunting or trapping seasons, but ranchers have pushed their political clout with state wildlife agencies, resulting in the killing of wolves in violation of both the state wolf plans and the endangered species act. Wildlife agencies in both Washington and Oregon have issued kill orders without confirmation of wolf predation on livestock, and without confirmation that the required non-lethal controls were in place. This behavior may change in Oregon due to a recent settlement reached with the ODFW and litigating conservation organizations.

WASHINGTON - In late September 2012 the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) aerial-gunned and shot to death the remaining members of the Wedge Pack. WDFW took this extreme action in response to complaints from a single rancher—a rancher who refused to cooperate with the WDFW and implement nonlethal controls and who publicly stated that he believes there is a conspiracy to force him to remove his cattle from public lands grazing. 

The WDFW killed the Wedge Pack in violation of Washington's Wolf Conservation and Management Plan.  The agency chose to ignore the state's plan, demonstrating the overbearing control agriculture special interests hold over state wildlife management. In 2013 an emergency rule went into effect allowing ranchers to kill wolves without a permit if they attack pets or livestock. This is also in violation of the wolf plan.

In July 2013 a coalition of conservation groups submitted a petition asking WDFW to codify the provisions of Washington State's wolf plan to make them legally binding. Surprisingly, in August conservation representatives met with WDFW and found the agency was open to codifying some portions of the plan into law. As a result, the conservation organizations withdrew their petition and are negotiating with WDFW.  We will see if WDFW and these organizations can work out a deal to codify the plan’s provisions without the threat of legal intervention. Once Washington's wolf plan is put into law, one way or another, it will not be so easy for wildlife managers to cater to political pressure from agriculture and hunting interests.

While no public wolf hunt is yet permitted in Washington, one native American tribe has already established a hunting season. Read more on the Colville Tribe website.

OREGON - In Oregon legal challenges to wolf kill orders have successfully kept lethal controls at bay since fall 2011, but a settlement reached at the end of May 2013 voids the court-ordered stay and allows lethal control under certain specific circumstances.

Wolves were driven out of Oregon over 50 years ago and were never reintroduced. Instead, Oregon's current fledgling population of approximately 54 wolves was founded by wolves who migrated here in the last few years from Idaho. The species was federally listed as endangered in the mid-1970s and became endangered in Oregon in 1987 when the state adopted its own Endangered Species Act. In the last few years wolves have gained and lost federal endangered species protection during a complicated series of legal actions.

On April 15, 2011, Oregon wolves were federally delisted, which means their protection (or persecution) is now under state control.  Oregon wolves remain covered under the state endangered species act. 

While the Oregon Wolf Plan is better than most, the change to state management puts our fledgling population at much higher risk because of the tremendous influence and power agricultural and ranching interests hold in Salem. Right now these interests are working hard to weaken protection, and allow them to kill wolves at their discretion. The Oregon Cattleman’s Association and the Oregon Hunters Association are at the forefront of state legislative efforts to override the management plan and allow the killing of wolves struggling to return to Oregon.

Just hours after the state took over management of wolves, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) killed two members of Oregon's first established pack.  Successful legal challenges filed in October when ODFW sought to kill two more members of this pack resulted in all kill orders being put on hold.  During the ensuing year while the killing was prohibited, the number of confirmed wolf depredations decreased significantly from a dozen to four, clearly demonstrating the benefits of nonlethal over lethal control methods.

A settlement reached in May 2013 lifted the stay on killing and allows lethal control of wolves by the state and  by ranchers under specific circumstances.  Some of the conditions required before lethal controls are permitted include that: (1) nonlethal practices be in place and documented for several months on the premises where predation is occurring, and (2) depredation be chronic as defined by four confirmed incidents within six-month period.  Ranchers will be allowed to kill wolves without a permit under certain conditions such as wolves seen attacking or chasing livestock.

The success of this settlement hinges on cooperation of the ODFW and the ranching community, and on transparency and open communication.  Only time will tell if such a relationship can be forged and maintained. 

In spite of great odds against the wolves, Oregon now has seven packs, and an estimated population of 46 wolves as of the end of May 2013.  In the absence of lethal control the population grew by 50 percent, and the incidence of livestock depredations decreased 75 percent,  With some luck and less lethal intervention Oregon wolves will continue to flourish and once again be heard howling in our wild lands. 

Current updates on wolves are available from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, as well as on our Wolves in Oregon page.

Predator Defense's Position on Wolves in Oregon

Biological

The first and perhaps most important reason we support wolf recovery in Oregon is to restore ecosystem processes and function. As a major predator, wolves have shaped prey populations for thousands of years. Wolf predation differs from human hunting mortality, primarily taking the young and old, rather than the largest and healthiest animals. In addition, wolf predation helps to balance prey numbers with available habitat, ensuring that plant communities get periodic rest from heavy browsing or grazing influences of herbivores. Wolves can also affect habitat use-for instance in Yellowstone there is evidence that wolf presence has shifted elk use from valley bottom riparian areas to uplands, benefiting riparian vegetation. Finally the presence of wolves can also affect the population and distribution of other smaller predators like coyotes, foxes and skunks. Changes in the population and distribution of these species can have cascading effects on other species from ground-nesting birds to small mammals.

The second reason we support recovery is an ethical consideration. Wolves were once an important ecological component of Oregon. We believe there is an ethical obligation to restore extirpated species, whenever practical. There is no practical reason not to restore the species and Oregon should embark on a restoration program immediately.

Third, there is a legal requirement by the state of Oregon to protect state listed endangered species, which the wolf is one.

We believe there are sufficient prey, space, and habitat in Oregon to support viable wolf populations.

Geographical Locations

Based upon several criteria including human population density, prey availability and core protected habitat areas; there are three primary Oregon wolf recovery areas, and several other secondary areas that could support viable wolf populations. The three main areas are the Blue/Wallowa Mountains /Hells Canyon region of eastern Oregon, Cascades and the Siskiyou/Klamath region of southwest Oregon and northern California.

In addition, we believe that wolves could potentially be reestablished in portions of the Coast Range and isolated mountain ranges of southeastern Oregon like Steens Mountain, Hart Mountain, Trout Creek and Warner Mountains.

Population Visibility

Based upon prey Oregon could easily support several thousand wolves. This would include protection from persecution from livestock interests of the three major Oregon recovery areas-Blue Mountains, Cascades and Siskiyou.

Management Considerations

Predator Defense recommends the following management to enhance recovery for wolves. Management actions should favor wolves, not human commercial enterprises.

1. No lethal controls of wolves. (See above for recommendations). Even after minimum viable population objectives are reached, no lethal control should ever occur on public lands.

2. Livestock operations should adopt animal husbandry practices that minimize predator opportunity. This includes use of guard animals, calving and lambing sheds, avoidance of active predator den and rendezvous sites.

3. Eliminate current practice of dumping livestock carcasses in pastures. All carcasses should be buried.

4. Where conflicts exist between livestock producers and wolves, the state should always mandate that wolves be favored. For instance if predation occurs on a grazing allotment, the livestock should be removed, not the wolves.

5. In order to ensure the success of wolf recovery efforts, all lethal predator control in occupied wolf territories should be discontinued.

6. Hunting of prey populations should be managed to “share” prey with wolves. Thus in years of reduced prey availability, hunter take of prey species should be reduced so as not to harm wolf prey base.

Additional Information

Read our Wolf Plan comment letter to the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.

For the most current information on wolf issues, including legislation, please visit Ralph Maughan's Wildlife News website.