In October 2020, the Trump Administration officially removed the Gray Wolf from the endangered species list as part of its broader goal of undermining and weakening the Endangered Species Act. Since then, states like Wisconsin, Idaho, and Montana have passed legislation that both allows and encourages the mass slaughter (up to 90%) of wolf populations.
On August 20, 2021, the Biden Administration announced that they were backing President Trump’s decision to remove protections for gray wolves despite an estimated population decline of 27% - 33% in Wisconsin and reports of wolf pups being slaughtered in their dens in Idaho.
With the winter hunts rapidly approaching, now is the time for President Biden and Interior Secretary Haaland to take swift action and restore federal protection to the Gray Wolf.
Where Hunts Are Happening
In February 2021, Wisconsin hunters blew through the state's quota of 200 wolves in less than 3 days.
Despite this devastation, the policymaking board of the WI Dept. of Natural Resources originally authorized an additional kill quota of 300 wolves, over double the recommendation set forth by the state’s biologists, for the hunt starting on November 6th. Indigenous communities have hit back at this decision as a violation of federal treaty rights and filed a lawsuit against the state. After the lawsuit was filed, the DNR lowered the wolf kill quota to 130.
Idaho passed legislation in the spring of 2021 that incentivizes and sanctions the slaughter of 90% of Idaho’s wolf population using a variety of cruel tactics like chasing wolves with dogs and automobiles until they tire out.
The new laws went into effect in Idaho on July 1 and since then there have been credible reports of wolf pups that have been stomped to death in their dens with the tacit approval of Idaho Fish & Game. The Foundation for Wildlife Management has been using state funds to distribute bounties to hunters that successfully kill wolves.
In Montana, the state government has sanctioned the killing of up to 85% of its wolf population starting in fall 2021.
The new laws allow for the use of choke-hold snares and extend trapping and hunting further into breeding season. Montana Governor Gianforte personally slaughtered a Yellowstone wolf in violation of state law and was given a warning by state agencies. So far over 25 wolves have been confirmed to have been killed in Montana, including at least 3 Yellowstone wolves around the boundary of the park.
Myths vs. Facts
The federal government consulted all relevant stakeholders when deciding to delist wolves
President Trump did not consult Indigenous representatives when he chose to delist wolves, even though wolves are sacred creatures in many Native American cultures. By delisting wolves without the consultation or consent of Tribal nations, the federal government ignored its treaty and trust obligations.
Because of the cultural significance of wolves, some 200 Indigenous tribes have protested the decision to remove wolves from the Endangered Species List and have urged the federal government to relist wolves.
Wolves threaten livestock and jeopardize the livelihood of ranchers.
Lethal wolf management practices may actually increase livestock deaths. By disrupting wolf social structures, lethal wolf control raises the chance of livestock depredations by up to 6%.
Non-lethal wolf management provides a viable alternative to hunting that protects livestock. Ancient practices, like fladry, which involves creating a perimeter of colorful flags around livestock, combined with contemporary techniques like strobe lights and loud noises have proven effective at keeping wolves from disturbing livestock. In addition, science has advanced new non-lethal innovations, such as microcapsules that nauseate wolves and condition them to find livestock disgusting.
On the rare occasions when wolves do kill livestock, ranchers in some areas are compensated by as much as seven times the lost head’s value.
Wolves are killing all of the elk in the Northern Rockies, making it more difficult to hunt large game.
Wolves and elk can live in ecological balance, as predator-prey relationships stabilize the populations of both species. Elk naturally defend themselves from the risks of predation by adopting more cautious behaviors when faced with predators. These behavioral adaptations help sustain the elk population.
Today, elk populations in the Northern Rockies are thriving. In 2020, there were over 120,000 elk in Idaho and over 130,000 elk in Montana.
The wolf population has already bounced back to a stable size. As such, the species does not need the protections of the Endangered Species List.
While the wolf population has reached the recovery thresholds that were determined in 1978, these metrics are woefully outdated. As the field of conservation biology has evolved and climate change has posed new threats to endangered species, it is critical to update recovery thresholds according to modern science.
Today, the population of wolves is in jeopardy. Gray wolves are functionally extinct in 80% of their historic range and just 6,000 wolves live across the continental U.S.
Extreme wolf hunts further jeopardize the stability of the wolf population. This year’s Idaho wolf hunt authorizes 90% of the state’s wolves to be killed, and Montana’s laws allow the hunting of 85% of wolves. In Wisconsin, hunters exceeded the state-imposed wolf-hunting limits by nearly 100, slaughtering 216 wolves in three days.
Dan Ashe, the former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director who oversaw the delisting of wolves in the Northern Rockies, has argued that the wolf population is in jeopardy because state hunts “are erasing progress made to conserve this species.” Ashe has publicly called for the federal government to reinstate protections for American wolves.
Data-driven science helps determine state wolf-hunt quotas in order to prevent massive population declines
Across the country, state legislatures have established wolf hunting quotas that ignore the recommendations of biologists and land managers.
The Idaho wolf hunt law passed despite the objections of the Idaho Fish and Game Commission.