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Protecting Wolves in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

Get the Facts!
Check out these fact sheets about wolves in Wyoming put together by the Western Wolf Coalition. Sierra Club is a founding member and active participant in the Western Wolf Coalition.

Wolves and Economics, Wolves and Livestock, Wolves and Ungulates, Ecological Benefits of Wolves

Wolves Lose Critical Protections
After yanking a rushed delisting rule in January, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced that it would move ahead with the same flawed delisting rule in March 2009. The rule took effect in April 2009 and removed federal protection for wolves in Idaho and Montana but not in Wyoming. Wyoming failed to modify its management plan and still touts the predator zone for wolves as the only option.

The delisting rule advocates using artificial means to create genetic diversity and sustainability in the wolf population, rather than relying on natural exchange across protected corridors. Sierra Club and other conservation groups are challenging the decision to remove wolves from the endangered species list.

Read our press release here.

The states of Idaho and Montana have proposed hunting seasons for wolves, set to open in September. Montana has set a quota of 75 wolves and Idaho has set a quota of approximately 250, including the Nez Perce tribe’s quota. Sierra Club believes it is premature and inappropriate to hunt wolves at this time, especially when the legality of wolf delisting is in question. Hunting in key dispersal corridors could disrupt the ability for wolves to move around, colonize new areas and breed with other wolves. We have requested a preliminary injunction and our case will be heard on August 31, 2009.

Read the joint press release here.

Background on wolves in the northern Rockies
In March 2008, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service formally removed the gray wolf from the Endangered Species list. With this removal, wolves were in the care of the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. Wyoming’s wolf management plan would allow most of the state’s gray wolves to be killed and included a hunting season.

Sierra Club and other groups won an injunction restoring federal protection for wolves in the northern Rockies. Read the press release here. The judge’s ruling explained how the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service flip flopped on two critical issues: Wyoming’s management plan and the need for genetic exchange among wolf sub-populations. Read the entire decision here.

The USFWS had rejected Wyoming’s wolf management plan in 2004 because it classified wolves as predatory animals in 90 percent of the state and because it failed to manage for at least 15 packs in the state. Then, in 2007, the USFWS inexplicably approved a nearly identical plan.

Also USFWS had originally asserted that genetic exchange between the Greater Yellowstone area, Central Idaho and northwestern Montana sub-populations of wolves was necessary to maintain a viable population of wolves in the Northern Rockies. In removing endangered species protections for the gray wolf, USFWS reversed its position, claiming that the potential for genetic exchange, rather than actual genetic exchange, was all that was necessary.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decided to start over with wolf delisting in the fall of 2008. However, virtually the same flawed rule was put worth in 2009. In the spring of 2009, wolves in Idaho and Montana were once again removed from the endangered species list, leaving wolves in Wyoming under federal control. Sierra Club is challenging this decision. Read the press release here.

Sierra Club is opposed to delisting for several reasons and is challenging the decision. Recent scientific studies have shown that there has been little genetic interchange between the three sub-populations of wolves in Central Idaho, Montana and the Yellowstone area. Without this biological interchange, wolves could become genetically isolated and at risk of inbreeding over the long term. There must be significant genetic interchange between the sub-populations in order for wolves to be sustainable into the future. During the delisting public comment processes in 2007, hundreds of scientists from around the world opposed delisting on similar grounds.

Also, the state wolf management plans are overly aggressive towards wolves. Right now, the states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming lack responsible wolf management plans. The state plans are based on politics rather than the best available science. Without responsible plans, we risk ending up right back where we started, with wolves on the brink of extinction.

Wyoming has a law on the books that mandates wolves be managed aggressively. Wolves are dually classified in Wyoming, as trophy game animals in the northwest corner of the state and as predatory animals in the majority of the state. Within the trophy game area, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department will manage wolves. Outside of the trophy game animals, wolves aren't managed at all and can be killed on sight by shooting, trapping, or any other legal means. Because Wyoming refused to modify its management plan, wolves in Wyoming were left out of the 2009 delisting rule.

These aggressive wolf killing practices, coupled with genetic isolation and premature removal of protections, could push wolf numbers dangerously low and reverse decades of recovery work.

Wyoming wolf management plan overview
Wyoming’s wolf management plan classifies wolves as trophy game animals in northwestern Wyoming and as predators across the remainder of the state, despite a legal ruling questioning whether this scheme would serve as an adequate regulatory mechanism to ensure wolves’ survival. Where wolves are classified as trophy game animals, they will be managed by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Learn more here.

According to the Department’s regulations (Chapter 21), wolves will be aggressively managed by “aerial hunting and hazing to protect private property including livestock and domesticated animals.” WGFD can also use other lethal control techniques within the trophy game area. Where wolves are classified as predators, they can be taken by any legal means, including trapping, poisoning, snaring and aerial hunting.

Most residents opposed to management plan
The economics, science and public opinion of wolves in Wyoming clearly indicate that no radical changes should be made to wolf management when delisting occurs. According to Game and Fish’s own survey results, 72 percent of Wyoming residents opposed the state’s management plan and 69 percent of Wyoming residents think there should be more wolves in the state.

   
   

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