Well - it is official, President Bush, in one last stand as president, threw the wolves to an even larger predator - the states of Idaho and Wyoming. The gray wolf has been removed from the endangered species list. In reality this move should not be surprising, given the administration's history of protecting other species. The Grizzly Bear and Bald eagle were also removed from the list by the current administration over the past few years. It seems that our fear of predators has come full circle since the 1800's, when wolves, coyotes, and bears were killed thoughtlessly.
The gray wolf has attained a record population of 1,500 since its listing 30 years ago - a mere 1 % of the population once thought to roam the U.S. Both Idaho and Wyoming intend to cull this population down to whatever level they feel necessary - through ground-based and aerial hunting and trapping. Reductions of up to 80% are proposed by governors of both states, knocking the population down to the minimum recovery target proposed by the FWS twenty years ago.
Why such a demand for the gray wolf's head in these states? - Well other than the fear invoked by these powerful, yet awe-inspiring animals, many locals believe that they are reducing elk populations. However, Yellowstone biologists estimate the current pack of wolves may consume up to 18,000 elk a year, while Idaho game officials have found hunters take 20,000 elk a year. In addition, hunters claim that elk are now more difficult to find because of the fear induced by the wolves. Personally, I thought hunting was supposed to be a challenge - the funny thing is - now when big gamers use an elk call to attract prey, they are greeted with wolf calls. In reality we must learn to live with the wildlife we once came so close to destroying.
While one industry bemoans the success of the wolf, another revels in its prevalence throughout the Northern Rockies. Wildlife photography and viewing is a large industry in itself, with wolves bringing $35 million annually to Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Not only do wolves attract people, but they improve the views as you hike through parks. Remember those blazing aspen trees you saw along the stream or river? That must have been a beautiful snapshot - well thank the wolves. Recent studies find that over-browsing by elk historically eliminated much of the aspen along streams. The introduction of wolves has gradually allowed this species to return, due to reduced populations and fear-induced changes in habitat use.
You might ask - what can really be done to protect this species? The easiest task is to simply email the governors of Idaho and Wyoming and to let them know your thoughts on the matter. Wolves attract plenty of tourists to Yellowstone. While travelling to this majestic park, most tourists go through Idaho or Wyoming, investing money in their airport, food, and hotel industry. Simply mention you will enter the park through another state (e.g. Utah) and limit spending in their state. Idaho and Wyoming are well invested in the ranching industry. Buy meat from companies that make efforts not to injure or kill wolves. One site (www.predatorfriendly.com) certifies meat, wool, and other livestock products as predator-friendly. One such company is Thirteen mile lamb and wool (http://www.lambandwool.com/) based in the heart of the controversy - Belgrade, Montana. Predator-friendly products may cost a premium, but if you can afford them, they may ensure that your children get to experience the call of the wild.
If these states get their way, wolves and other predators will essentially be limited to "roam" freely only in what are large disconnected zoos, confined within tracts of national parks and forests. Not only will this limit the expansion of populations to other states, but it will stress current populations. Hopefully 2008 elections will put a stop to the anti-predator administration, but only time will tell.