What’s so important about the Rocky Mountain wolves?

Verlyn Klinkenborg has written an excellent editorial in The New York Times about the delisting of the Rocky Mountain wolves. I wrote a letter in response which the Times has published.  Check it out, here.

So what’s the big deal about the Rocky Mountain wolves?    

The Endangered Species Act exists to “protect and recover imperiled species and the ecosystems on which they depend.”*    Being on the list is not an end in itself.  The whole point of putting a species or population on the list is to eventually get it off the list–to protect the species or population until it is healthy and stable enough to no longer be in danger of extinction. There are now about 1500-1600 wolves in the Rocky Mountain region, and by many measures, they are doing very well.  

So why all the hubbub?  Isn’t it good news if the wolves have reached a point of recovery sufficient to delist them?  

There are two parts to this question (ok, I’m sure there are more, but there are two that come to mind now.)

Question One:  Are the Rocky Mountain wolves really sufficiently recovered to be removed from the list?

Many excellent, respected scientists who have dedicated their careers to the wolves and their conservation think so.  Others think not–that the genetic diversity is not sufficient and that the wolves don’t have enough access to more diverse populations.  But it’s debatable and both positions are defendable.  I really respect the scientists who say the population is recovered and would be willing to be swayed by their arguments.

However they, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, do not seem to be putting enough emphasis on the second question, the one so eloquently addressed by Mr. Klinkenborg:  

Are there enough protections in place to take care of the wolves after they are delisted?

The answer, as far as I can tell, is a resounding, “No.”

More than 200,000 gray wolves once lived throughout the United States. Aggressive wolf killing campaigns led to the eradication of wolves in the lower 48 states by the 1930s.  The wolves were systematically killed with the specific intention of completely eradicating them.  

The problem is that in many places the attitudes that led people to deliberately drive the wolves to near extinction have not changed.  State governments already have aggressive wolf-killing plans in place and ready to go on May 4th, when the delisting goes into effect. In his editorial Klinkenborg  points out that Idaho Governor C.L. Otter has not only said that he wants to be the first in line for a wolf hunting license, he has also said he would like to reduce the wolf population in Idaho to 100, well below the number required by the state management plan. In the past, Montana’s plans have also been very aggressive.

So until the wolves are truly protected from those who wish to see them gone for good, they need to remain on the Endangered Species list.

* from the US Fish And Wildlife Service Website

Coming up:  “Wolf Management” almost always means killing wolves. Does it have to be this way? It’s an interesting discussion, and I’ll address it in a posting soon.


  1. Hullo! I’m about halfway through Promise of the Wolves and already looking forward to the release of the next book. You’re a massive help to my motivation for writing. Keep it up. ^___^
    Ooh, and just so you know, I’d love to see more blog entries! ~3

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