Hunting has long been firmly ingrained in American culture, and governments have always had to regulate hunting carefully to protect certain species from possible extinction. In 1974, responding to over-hunting, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) listed the gray wolf as an endangered species in the lower 48 states, pursuant to the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Thirty-four years later, in 2008, the gray wolf population in the northern Rocky Mountain region–which includes Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and parts of Washington, Oregon, and Utah–had rebounded sufficiently to warrant delisting.

Great news, right? Let’s have a party in honor of the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf! Don’t forget to bring drinks, cake, a card, and your hunting rifle. A bit more than a year after the FWS delisted the northern Rocky Mountain gray wolf population, Montana and Idaho approved plans to allow hunters to kill small numbers of the newly-recovered gray wolf populations, largely for sport. The hunts are set to start as early as the beginning of September, close to the start of hunting season for most other large game in the states.

Exactly how many gray wolves are in the area you ask? Between Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, scientists estimate the total gray wolf population to be at about 2300: “The tristate region had about a hundred breeding pairs and 1,600 individuals at the end of 2008. Biologists estimate 500 wolf pups were born this spring.” Although the Idaho and Montana hunting plans would only authorize the killing of a few hundred wolves, the sudden rush to kill a once-endangered species strikes me as odd, especially since part of the motivation behind the hunts seems to be a lust for killing an oft-villainized animal:

Vendors such as Daniel Stephenson, owner of River of No Return Taxidermy in Salmon, Idaho, expect robust demand. “In our area, there’re lots of [wolves] and they’re not a real popular thing for deer and elk hunters,” Stephenson said. “So everybody wants a chance to go get one.”

A coalition of animal rights groups, including Defenders of Wildlife, has filed a motion in federal court for a preliminary injunction to stop the wolf hunts. Wolf advocates argue that since wolves must breed with many packs to maintain genetic diversity, diminishing and further isolating gray wolf populations may do more harm to the species than expected. The outcome of an August 31, 2009 hearing on the issue is currently pending.

Although hunting is a socially acceptable sporting activity, and wolf hunting is all the rage lately, a few thousand wolves across three relatively large states doesn’t seem like a very high number to me. Perhaps states should wait until wolf populations are thriving, rather than simply non-endangered, to green light hunting. After all, we’ve seen bird flu and swine flu–maybe the next pandemic will be wolf flu.

Read more on Defenders of Wildlife’s gray wolves blog.

– Kevin Lumpkin

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8 Responses to Gray Wolves Rebound; Hunters Rejoice

  1. David Palmaro says:

    Finaly the governmet is back on the right track. Let the fish & game staff handle their territory & wildlife, they always have done the right thing for all.

    My grandfather and uncle harvested many wolfs in Canada, for many years,they never ran out of wolfves. Lets face it wolfs are like the Calif mountain lion, if the truth of how many have to be killed by wardens & private party each year, you would wonder where are they all coming from, real simple,the people paid to keep records & track , collar them, only account for a 1/3 of them. I have set up game camers by homes & schools near the mountain areas, thats where these mountain lions are and lots of them. Canada must be laughing about us taking their wolves off their hands.

  2. Kelli says:

    How sad that people can’t see how beautiful these creatures are and that some are considering this # high enough to allow hunting them. That is a very low amount of wolves and not nearly enough to be allowing people to peck them off just for the “sport” of it. I think it’s disgusting that anyone would want to and gets their jollies this way anyway. People should be ashamed of themselves for considering this fun and also for feeling like they have really done something – “ooh, I am big and bad cause I can kill with my gun.” As if it’s not bad enough that humans have systematically stripped away so much of animals natural habitats to build more and more homes, parking lots, fast food restaurants and shopping malls! I hope this is reversed immediately because it is the wrong decision all of the way around.

  3. That is just too sad. I mean really? Let them flourish so someone can shoot their jollies off.

  4. Lisa says:

    I couldn’t agree more. 2300 wolves spread across 3 very large states does not seem like much at all. Concentrated hunting in specific regions in these states can forever alter the dynamics of individual packs. This is an issue everyone should be aware of.

  5. Joe says:

    I like your thoughts, and I would tend to agree there should be careful monitoring of wildlife species populations. But here’s some thoughts.
    It may not sound like much–2,000 or so–but there are factors that deem what’s too many or too few of a species. I don’t think the majority of influential hunters or politicians responsible for allowing the hunt are being irresponsible in light of the health of the population of the gray wolf.
    From what I hear, if the population of a predator beast gets to be too many, they will not have enough food for their kind in their natural habitats to support them. Gay wolves are still going to be carefully monitored with the hunt for them on, so it’s not going to be too easy to hunt for more than one hunter’s just share.
    I do appreciate monitoring wildlife reserves–I want my great grandchildren to see the wolves alive and in the flesh too–but what are we not considering that professionals of theis field could tell us?

  6. bewaretheblond says:

    Go Wolves!!!

  7. Nikki Hahn says:

    Because of hunters, packs and herds have sustained and grown into healthy numbers. It is a good thing the wolf is delisted. Game and Fish and hunters are committed to sustaining healthy herds. It was Theodore Roosevelt (a hunter) who began regulating hunting. Hunting is not just about getting an animal. Hunting is about the outdoors, trying to outsmart instincts thousands of years old, and its about respect.

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