Wolf hunting expands even as delisting from federal protection is delayed

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  May/June 2013:

WASHINGTON D.C.––”A recent unexpected delay” has indefinitely postponed the anticipated removal of gray wolves in the Lower 48 states from U.S. endangered species list protection,  Associated Press reported on May 21,  2013,  citing only “a court filing” by “government attorneys.”  

Neither the filing nor the filing agency––presumably either the Department of the Interior or the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service,  within the Department of the Interior––was further identified before ANIMAL PEOPLE went to press.

“No further explanation was offered” for the delay,  Associated Press said.

“We remain concerned that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is prepared to give up on wolf recovery too soon,”  responded Defenders of Wildlife president Jamie Rappaport Clark.  “Gray wolves still only occupy a small portion of available habitat,”  Clark said,  about 15% of their historical range,  “and having minimal populations in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes is not good enough.”

Los Angeles Times reporter Julie Cart on April 25,  2013 outlined a draft wolf delisting proposal,  particulars of which were confirmed the next day by Matthew Brown and John Flesher of Associated Press.  Issued despite a 7% drop in the Lower 48 wolf population resulting from newly instituted wolf hunting seasons in Idaho,  Minnesota,  Montana,  Wisconsin,  and Wyoming,  the delisting proposal would strip protection from all wolves except Mexican grey wolves in New Mexico and Arizona.  Hunters have altogether killed about 1,100 wolves in the Lower 48 in the past two years.

The delisting proposal was welcomed by hunters and ranchers,  but the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association argued that Mexican grey wolves should also be downlisted.

The delisting proposal was denounced in a May 9,  2013 appeal to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell cosigned by Defenders of Wildlife,  EarthJustice,  the Center for Biological Diversity, the Natural Resources Defense Council,  the Sierra Club,  and the Endangered Species Coalition.

Between the disclosure of the downlisting proposal and the delay in implementing it,  Michigan became the sixth state in two years to authorize a wolf hunting season.  The seven-member Michigan Natural Resources Commission on May 9,  2013 voted 6-1 in favor of allowing hunters and trappers to kill up to 43 wolves on the Upper Peninsula between November 15 and December 31.  About 660 wolves are believed to inhabit the Upper Peninsula.

On May 22,  2013 the Michigan Secretary of State certified that the Humane Society of the U.S. and allied organizations had collected enough signatures from voters to place on the November 2014 state ballot a measure seeking to repeal the state law passed in December 2012 which authorized the Michigan Natural Resources Commission to establish a wolf hunting season.

“HSUS and pro-wolf organizations,  part of a broad coalition that also included Native American tribes in the Upper Peninsula,  within 67 days collected more than a quarter million signatures from registered voters,”  recounted HSUS president Wayne Pacelle.  “But between the signature submission date of March 27th and certification,  state lawmakers rammed through a second law in an attempt to subvert the referendum and make it moot.  Their second measure gives authority to the Natural Resources Commission to open hunting and trapping seasons on any protected species except mourning doves.

“We believe the vote of the people on the original referendum in November 2014 should be binding,”  Pacelle said,  “and that the Natural Resources Commission and the Michigan legislature should heed the will of the state’s citizenry.  But,  as a legal matter,  they may not be bound to follow the vote.  Thus, we are faced with the idea of launching a second referendum,  to send an unmistakable signal about the legislature’s abuse of power and the people’s wish to keep Michigan wolves protected.”

At the ANIMAL PEOPLE deadline the possibility of starting a second referendum petition in Michigan was still being considered.

The Montana Fish,  Wildlife & Parks Department meanwhile proposed to extend the Montana wolf hunting season to six and a half months,  with a bag limit of five wolves per hunter,  up from just one.  The liberalized wolf hunting rules would also allow hunters to use electronic calls.

Hunters in the Yellowstone region blame wolves for allegedly falling elk populations.  But,  noted Missoula Independent Record reporter Eve Byron,  “The elk population actually is over management objectives statewide—although their numbers dropped precipitously in a few areas—and livestock depredations seem to be lessening.  A drop in elk numbers in the Bitterroot and Paradise valleys initially was blamed on wolves,  but an ongoing study seems to show that mountain lions,  bears and humans are having more of an impact than previously thought.”

Montana hunters killed 128 wolves during the 2012-2013 wolf hunting season.  Trappers killed 97.  The estimated Montana wolf population peaked in 2011 at 653,  and was believed to be 625 wolves in 147 packs at the end of 2012.

The Wyoming Game & Fish Department in April 2013 proposed to issue just 26 wolf hunting permits this year,  half as many in 2012.  The proposal was endorsed by the Jackson Hole Outfitters & Guides Association,  reported Mike Koshmiri of the Jackson Hole News & Guide.

“We don’t want them back on the endangered species list,“  outfitter Carlton Loewer told Koshmiri.  Hunters in 2012 cut the estimated Wyoming wolf population from 328 to 277 animals,  a drop of 16%.

“Under its Endangered Species Act delisting agreement, Wyoming must maintain 50 wolves and five packs in Yellowstone National Park and the Wind River Indian Reservation,  and 100 wolves and ten packs in the ‘trophy game’ area,”  Koshmiri explained.

The National Parks Conservation Association on May 15,  2013 petitioned the National Park Service to prohibit wolf hunting in a 24,000-acre tract occupied by the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Memorial Parkway,  between Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks.

National Parks Conservation Association spokesperson Sharon Mader told Ben Neary of Associated Press that the association believes the area was included within the Wyoming wolf hunting zone as result of a federal administrative oversight.  “Hunting an animal fresh off the endangered species list in a national park unit is unprecedented,”  Mader said.

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