From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 2000:
DENVER––The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on January 13 reversed a 1997 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge William Downes that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service violated the Endangered Species Act by reintroducing 66 wolves to Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho in 1995 and 1996 as an “experimental, non-essential” population.
The American Farm Bureau Federation and Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho affiliates held that the “experimental, non-essential” status illegally reduced protection of wild wolves already in the area, and that therefore the reintroduced wolves and their progeny should be removed.
The verdict enabled the Fish and Wildlife Service to proceed with the scheduled reintroduction of grizzly bears to the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area northwest of Yellowstone. Five grizzlies a year would be released into the wilderness over a five-year span.
The Yellowstone wolf restoration is now seen as one of the most successful species recovery projects ever. By the end of 1999 the wolf population of states bordering Yellowstone was up to 380, including 64 wolves who migrated south from Canada on their own.
Few reintroducees remain alive. The most prolific breeder, #9, was not expected to last the winter after one of her daughters drove her off and took over the pack.
However, parvo virus contracted from domestic dogs apparently held the 1999 Yellowstone region pup survival rate––falling for three straight years––to just 40%. It was never before below 73%.
Hostility toward the wolves from hunters and ranchers still takes a toll as well. Responding to repeated complaints from cattle rancher Curt Hurless, USDA Wildlife Services on January 27 killed three members of the Twin Peaks pack near Clayton, Idaho. Defenders of Wildlife––which spent $49,140 in 1999 to compensate ranchers for losses to wolves and grizzlies––meanwhile posted a reward of $2,500 for information leading to the conviction of whoever used Compound 1080, a restricted poison, to kill two radio-collared wolves, a fox, and a dog near Salmon, Idaho.
Frustrated hunters organized as Friends of the Yellowstone Elk claim wolves are wiping out the local elk herds. However, an aerial count in January found that the Yellowstone elk population is actually 10% larger than last winter, and is close to the post-1976 average herd size. The elk population was abnormally high in 1994, apparently stoking the hunter perception of a post-wolf return crash.
Similar issues plague the restoration of Mexican wolves to Arizona and New Mexico. The reintroduced Pipestem and Gavilan packs have both been recaptured after scavenging cattle carcasses and perhaps preying on cattle––including cattle who were allegedly illegally grazing within the Apache National Forest. No more than a dozen of the 24 Mexican wolves released into the wild in early 1999 remained at large as of early February. Eleven Mexican wolves were released in 1998, but four were recaptured after four others were shot, three of them by persons unknown, and one disappeared.
Red wolf restoration to North Carolina, begun in 1987 and considered successful by 1995, is on hold while the Fish and Wildlife Service assesses genetic research which indicates that hybridization with coyotes will eradicate any distinctive “red wolf” line within just a few generations.
Finding that red wolves and coyotes cross-breed has called into question whether the so-called red wolf even is a wolf; it may actually be a large coyote subspecies. If red wolves retain species status, the Fish and Wildlife response to hybridization may be to step up efforts––already made at times––to kill coyotes in “red wolf” territory.
A two-year-old debate rages on in Minnesota meanwhile over details of a management plan which the Fish and Wildlife Service must approve before returning authority over wolves in Minnesota to the state. The Minnesota wolf population of about 2,500, is no longer considered endangered or threatened. A revised plan offered in January by the state Department of Natural Resources would expose wolves to sport hunting and trapping within five years, and would allow landowners to kill wolves who present any “perceived threat” to their pets or livestock.
Trying as usual to make more moose and caribou available to human hunters, the Alaska Board of Game on January 19 approved a proposal to kill up to 35 of the 55 wolves in the McGrath area, where there were 164 wolves as recently as 1995, and on January 20 endorsed a plan to kill 375 of the estimated 500 wolves in the Nelchina basin. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was directed to promote the Nelchina plan to the public for six weeks before the Board of Game takes a final vote.
The Board of Game recommendation could be vetoed by Governor Tony Knowles, who halted a similar scheme in December 1995.
Alaskan hunters argue that there should be about 35,000 to 40,000 caribou in the Nelchina Basin, and 20,000 to 22,000 moose, as there were in 1995. Fish and Wildlife Service data indicates, however, that the habitat cannot sustain that many.
Controversies over wolves underway in Norway and Sweden echo those in the U.S. Swedish environmental protection agency biologist Soeren Ekstrom in January recommended that Sweden should keep predator populations of about 1,500 bears, 300 wolverines, 1,000 lynxes, 200 wolves, and 1,200 golden eagles.
This would allow trappers to kill about 500 “surplus” lynx, satisfying Sami herders who complain that lynx and wolverine kill about 20,000 of their reindeer each year.
The small Swedish wolf population in 1997 spread into Norway, where native wolves were extirpated circa 1912. Sheep farmer Karl S. Hole reportedly leads a campaign which seeks to have the government drive them out again or kill them––but for Norway to do so would be to violate the Bern Convention on Biodiversity.
In March 1999, Norwegian environment minister Guro Fjellanger ordered that the resident wolves be killed, but his edict was challenged in court by the Norwegian chapter of the World Wildlife Fund, and was reversed in December 1999.