Wolves will be hunted
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2009:
WASHINGTON, D.C.–Gray wolves may soon be legally hunted in
several of the Lower 48 states of the U.S., for the first time in
more than 80 years–but whether that means more wolves will be killed
than the 300-plus dispatched by USDA Wildlife Services in 2008 for
menacing livestock is anyone’s guess.
Among the restored populations of Idaho, Montana, and
Wyoming, together including about 1,650 wolves, Wildlife Services
in 2008 killed 264 wolves, more than one wolf in six, exterminating
21 entire packs as well as alleged rogue individuals.
Wildlife Services, other agencies, and farmers protecting
livestock also killed 45 wolves in Wisconsin, plus some in Michigan
Ranchers, blaming wolves for the confirmed loss of 601
cattle, sheep, llamas, and guard dogs in 2008, and sport hunters
who allege that wolves have reduced the numbers of elk and deer,
would like to kill even more wolves. Some elected officials in the
northern Rockies would openly prefer to hunt wolves back to regional
The 2008-2009 winter wolf count found 846 wolves in Idaho,
497 in Montana, and 302 in Wyoming.
“I’m prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf
myself,” said Idaho governor C.L. “Butch” Otter on March 6, 2009.
Otter howled like a wolf for reporters after U.S. Interior
Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the Barack Obama presidential
administration will abide by the January 14, 2009 decision of the
George W. Bush administration to remove gray wolves from the U.S.
endangered species list.
The announcement came just five days before Bush left office.
White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had suspended the delisting
Otter also declared his interest in hunting wolves after the
Bush administration floated the delisting proposal in January 2007,
and has pushed an Idaho wolf management plan that will allow hunters
to kill as many as 320 wolves in the first wolf season. The plan
requires Idaho to maintain only 15 of the present 39 breeding pairs
of wolves, distributed among 88 packs. But whether recreational
hunters are able to kill wolves in anything like the numbers killed
by helicopter-flying Wildlife Services personnel remains to be seen.
The wolf delisting was delayed for nearly two years because
the Wyoming governor Dave Freudenthal, the Wyoming legislature, and
the Wyoming wildlife and agriculture agencies sought to confine
wolves to the northwestern part of the state with a “predator”
designation that would have allowed anyone to kill wolves anywhere
else at any time.
Eventually the Interior Department delinked Wyoming from all
other Lower 48 states with wolf populations. Because Wyoming
officials continue to resist adopting a wolf management plan that
allows wolves to expand their range and maintain a viable population,
wolves remain federally endangered in Wyoming.
Under the terms of delisting, states are allowed to
establish wolf hunting seasons and quotas. But state wildlife
agencies may not permit wolves to be hunted to renewed endangerment.
If Idaho hunters, for example, killed the full state quota of 320
wolves this year, there might be no wolf hunting season, or a
severely restricted wolf season, in 2010.
Wildlife Services will continue to kill wolves, along with
other livestock predators, as contracted by state agencies, but
wolves killed by Wildlife Services count against the numbers killed
by sport hunters. If Wildlife Services kills more wolves than
anticipated in future management plans, the state quotas must be cut
Wildlife Services spent nearly $1 million to kill wolves in
the northern Rockies in 2008, about a fourth of total federal
expenditure on regional wolf management. Most of the cost of wolf
management will now pass to state agencies.
Wolves vs. elk
Governor Otter and other Idaho hunters hope that killing
wolves will help to rebuild the elk population in the Lolo elk
management zone. This region, described by Associated Press writer
Todd Dvorak as “a vast stretch that incorporates the Lochsa and North
Fork of the Clearwater River drainages,” twenty years ago supported
as many as 16,000 elk.
“In the last two decades,” Dvorak summarized on March 9,
2009, “that herd has diminished to a little more than 3,000 elk due
to habitat changes, hunting, and depredation from bear, mountain
lions, and wolves.”
Elsewhere, Dvorak reported, “Wildlife managers have met or
exceeded the National Elk Refuge population objective in Wyoming for
nine consecutive years. Of the seven elk hunting units overlapped by
Wyoming’s trophy game area, where wolves could be hunted only with a
license during a regulated season,” according to the present state
plan, “only two are below herd objectives, and one of these is by
48 animals while the other is about 500 below desired levels.”
In Montana, “The northern Yellowstone elk herd is larger
than last year, according to a recent aerial survey,” wrote Brett
French of the Billings Gazette, “but the number of calves remains
one-half to one-third of what wildlife managers would like to see.
Predation of elk calves by grizzly bears and wolves is blamed for the
lower calf numbers. But the overall drop in elk numbers has also been
attributed to extended drought and hunter harvests.”
The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks “decreased
the number of antlerless elk permits from 1,102 in 2005 to 100 per
season between 2006 and 2009,” explained French, “to increase the
number of breeding-age cow elk.
“Elk numbers in the northern herd have dropped 60% from
all-time highs,” since the 1995 wolf reintroduction, French wrote,
“but wolf numbers in Yellowstone are down 40% from 2008, dropping
from 94 to 56 wolves in the northern range. The wolf decline has
been blamed on disease and lethal fights between packs battling over
Wolves vs. coyotes
Whatever influence wolves have had on elk, coyotes have
probably taken proportionately the biggest hit from wolf
reintroduction of any species–both from wolves and from hunters,
ranchers, and USDA Wildlife Services.
“Long hated and persecuted for resembling wolves, coyotes
again figure to pay the price for their bigger cousins as wolves,
their own image rehabilitated, are reintroduced to fragments of
their former habitat,” ANIMAL PEOPLE predicted in October 1994.
“The strongest argument wolf defenders have for reintroduction, they
have found, is not that wild wolves have never verifiably attacked a
human being within the U.S., nor that they are the lovable creatures
whose family life Farley Mowat recorded in Never Cry Wolf! Rather,
it’s that a wolf will kill a coyote if he sees it.”
Within months of release in Yellowstone National Park,
wolves drove coyotes to the fringes of the Lamar Valley, a former
coyote stronghold. As wolves spread out of Yellowstone into
surrounding states, coyote numbers initially thinned wherever wolf
packs became established.
Irate about wolf predation on livestock and elk,
ranchers and hunters said little about the parallel decline in coyote
predation. But USDA Wildlife Services records tell the
story–especially in Wyoming. Calls about alleged problem coyotes
and lethal responses fell so steeply that after killing 5,302 coyotes
in Wyoming in 1994, the seventh highest state total, Wildlife
Services killed just 2,446 in 1997, eleventh among the states.
By November 1997, reported Wildlife Conservation Society
researcher Kim Murray Berger and USDA scientist Eric Gese, the
Yellowstone National Park coyote population had fallen 40% since the
wolf reintroduction. The coyote population of Grand Teton National
Park, to the south, fell 33%.
This restored the proportions of predators and prey to
those of the 19th century, before wolves were extirpated, Berger
and Gese believed. The return of wolves introduced significant
predation of elk and bison, for the first time in more than a
century, but because coyotes learn to avoid wolves, while wolves
mostly hunt larger prey, predation on sheep, deer, and pronghorn
had declined, Berger and Gese found.
Berger told Associated Press that unpublished data suggested
the pronghorn population had increased by 6% per year in areas where
wolves replaced coyotes.
Wolf restoration unexpectedly benefitted beaver, found
Oregon State University ecologists William Ripple and Robert Beschta.
The coyote population declined by half in the portions of the
Yellowstone region accessible to beaver, while the beaver population
increased by 900%. Apparently coyotes hit dispersing young beavers
much harder than anyone realized. Wolves tend to leave beavers
alone, as they are not big enough to feed a pack.
As beaver create habitat for many other species, including
muskrats, otter, fish and birds, wolf recovery boosted
biodiversity throughout the northern Rockies.
But the political pendulum swung with the election of former
U.S. President George W. Bush. The Bush administration placated
rancher and hunter anger over the wolf reintroduction by boosting the
USDA Wildlife Services coyote toll in Wyoming to 7,857 in 2001, and
kept it between 6,079 and 7,069 through 2006.
Then, while trying to woo Wyoming into adopting an
acceptable wolf management plan, the Bush administration allocated
$6 million more to coyote killing in Wyoming in 2007 and 2008. The
USDA Wildlife Services staff in Wyoming was increased from 20 to 45.
The coyote toll jumped to 10,914 in 2007. Rod Krischke, Wildlife
Services program director for Wyoming, predicted in August 2008 that
the 2008 toll would be higher, once the numbers are tallied.
Killing coyotes in steeply increased volume is possible in
Wyoming, despite the wolf reintroduction, for two reasons. The
first is that wolves still have a strong presence only in the
northwest part of Wyoming, near Yellowstone and Grand Teton National
Parks. The second is that killing coyotes, unlike killing wolves,
tends to accelerate their rates of reproduction and dispersal.
Coyotes came to be on the Wildlife Services hit list in the
first place because wolves were extirpated from most of the Lower 48.
The U.S. Forest Service initiated wolf “control” in 1905, in
partnership with the U.S. Biological Survey. Formed in 1884 as the
Office of Economic Ornithology and Biology, the latter agency 20
years later faced termination by Congress unless it could find a
justification for its continued existence. By 1915, the Biological
Survey had an annual wolf-killing budget of $125,000. Two years
later, as political enthusiasm for wolf eradication grew, the
budget was up to $250,000, equivalent to perhaps $5 million today.
The Biological Survey killed a high of 523 wolves in 1920, but could
kill just 47 by 1927 and only nine a year later.
As wolves were exterminated, coyotes spread into their
former range, in far greater numbers, and soon killed many times
more domestic sheep and calves than wolves ever had. Congress in
1931 formed the department of Animal Damage Control with a mandate
to extirpate coyotes. The ADC killed as many as a quarter of a
million coyotes per year at peak, but coyotes proved more resilient
than wolves. Despite the killing, coyotes increased their numbers
and range, reaching Maine by 1948.
Amid scoffing that “ADC” stood for Accelerated Distribution
of Coyotes, studies begun in the mid-1950s discovered what had
happened. A Texas study, confirmed in other states, found that
intense hunting made more food available to surviving pregnant female
coyotes, whose average litter size increased from four to as many as
Along with the extermination of wolves, a vogue for fox
fur collars throughout the 1930s and 1940s had opened up new habitat.
As foxes were hunted and trapped out of the east, coyotes moved in,
despite every effort of the ADC, and despite state after state
introducing an open season on coyotes, often reinforced by bounties.
ADC became USDA Wildlife Services in 1997. The House of
Representatives in June 1998 approved a budget cut that would have
abolished Wildlife Services, but the agency budget was later more
than doubled, and the agency mandate was expanded to include
exterminating “invasive species” as well as wildlife threats to human
A coalition self-described as “115 conservation, animal
protection, ranching, and faith-based organizations from across the
United States” on January 2, 2009 asked then newly appointed
agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack to reform Wildlife Services so that
it would no longer be essentially a government-managed extermination
agency. Confirmed in the appointment on January 20, 2009, Vilsack
in his first 60 days in office did not take any major actions
involving Wildlife Services.
Coyotes briefly got a break from the beginnings of wolf
recovery. A few wolves had either survived the ADC onslaught in
Minnesota, or had recolonized the region from Canada. In 1970 some
of the Minnesota wolves dispersed into Wisconsin. Allegedly
mistaking the wolves for coyotes, hunters and ranchers shot many of
them. In 1979 Wisconsin banned coyote hunting in counties known to
have wolves–but lifted the ban in 1983 due to protests from deer
There are now about 3,000 wolves in Minnesota, 520 in
Michigan, and 550 in Wisconsin. The current Minnesota state wolf
conservation plan calls for a five-year moratorium after federal
delisting before any legal wolf hunting might be authorized.
Michigan also has no immediate plans to allow wolf hunting. But,
pressured by the Wisconsin Conservation Congress and the Wisconsin
Hunters Rights Coalition, the Wisconsin Department of Natural
Resources in August 2008 told the state Natural Resources Board that
hunters could kill from 29 to 41 wolves per year without harming the
Known wolf mortality in Wisconsin in 2007 was 92, said
Adrian Wydeven of the Wisconsin DNR, including 37 wolves killed by
government personnel in response to predation, three shot by
property owners to protect livestock or pets, and 28 who were hit by