Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Open Comment Period on Proposed Delisting of Rocky Mountain Wolves

In an earlier post I criticized (OK, name-called) Idaho's governor for vowing to decimate the state's gray wolf population.

As things stand at the moment, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed delisting the the northern Rocky Mountain population of gray wolves from the federal list of threatened and endangered species. The same western Great Lakes population of gray wolves has already been removed. The northern Rocky Mountain distinct population segment (DPS) includes all of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, the eastern one-third of Washington and Oregon, and a small part of north-central Utah.

USFWS' notice was published in the February 8, 2007 Federal Register. Comments are due within sixty days of publication, which means by the close of business April 9, 2007.

USFWS reviewed and approved Idaho's "Wolf Conservation and Management Plan" ("IWCMP"). According to the Federal Register publication:

The IWCMP calls for IDFG to be the primary manager of wolves after delisting; like Montana, to maintain a minimum of 15 packs of wolves to maintain a substantial margin of safety over the 10 breeding pair minimum; and to manage them as a viable selfsustaining population that will never require relisting under the Act. Wolf take would be more liberal if there are more than 15 packs and more conservative if there are fewer than 15 packs in Idaho.

The USFWS has this to say about hunting wolves after de-listing has occurred:

Montana and Idaho would regulate human-caused mortality to manipulate wolf distribution and overall population size to help reduce conflicts with livestock and, in some cases, human hunting of big game, just as they do for other resident species of wildlife. Idaho and Montana, and some Tribes in those States, would allow regulated public harvest of surplus wolves in the NRM wolf population for commercial and recreational purposes by regulated private and guided hunting and trapping. Such take and any commercial use of wolf pelts or other parts would be regulated by State or Tribal law (See discussion of State laws and plans under Factor D). The regulated take of those surplus wolves would not affect wolf population recovery or viability in the NRM because the States of Montana and Idaho (and Wyoming, if its plan is approved in the future) would allow such take only for wolves that are surplus to achieving the State’s commitment to maintaining a recovered population.

All of this looks nice on paper, but then there is the reality. Otter's announcement to the hunters that they would soon be able to shoot wolves was nothing short of a rally. When the chief executive of the state wants to be "the first in line" to shoot a wolf, it isn't about managing a population in a responsible, sustainable way. It's about whatever jizz you get from shooting a wolf.

Not long ago Otter posted a short release on the New West Network. In it he describes Idahoans as "proud stewards of the land and species" of their state, and cites apparent successes at managing black bear and cougar populations as evidence that wolves will be well treated.

We will be guided by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s implementation of our state management plan, which was approved by the Fish and Wildlife Service and its handpicked wolf experts.

The key is flexibility to control problem wolves.

In areas where wolves are not destroying livestock or having a dramatic impact on our ungulate herds, wolves will be managed in concert with all species.
In areas where we’ve documented consistent patterns of chronic livestock depredation, like the Copper Basin, and where wolves are having an unacceptable impact on elk herds, the state will use sportsmen and other tools to manage wolves and protect private property.

If this were really the plan, it wouldn't be so bad. But the plan is to "harvest" wolves down to 10 breeding pairs, regardless of whether the local population is having an impact (dramatic or otherwise) on ungulate herds. That demonstrates that the state's policy isn't driven by protecting deer and elk herds, as it claims, but is about adding another species to the List of Things You Can Shoot In the Woods.

Let's not forget that the principal reason wolves had to be listed to begin with was because of overpredation by humans. What message does Otter send to hunters? You almost imagine Otter standing on the capitol steps firing a .30-30 into the air to wild orange-clad applause. Based on his display, I have little confidence in the ability of Otter's administration to judge what's an "unacceptable" impact on deer and elk herds.

"The last thing we want to see is the species return to federal management under the ESA," says Otter. Of course, because you can't shoot federally protected species.

All sorts of information from the Fish and Wildlife Service about gray wolves can be found here.

Comments on the proposed delisting may be sent to the US Fish and Wildlife Service as follows:

* electronically mailed to NRMGrayWolf@fws.gov;
* hand-delivered to USFWS, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601; or
* mailed to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wolf Delisting, 585 Shepard Way, Helena, MT 59601.

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