Elimination of Wolf Hunt Is Misguided

The 18-wheelers roaring down the interstate and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 are a lot alike. The big rigs deliver the stuff that keeps America going, from Tic-Tacs to toilet paper, from snare locks to steel traps, while the ESA delivers the laws and regulations that have saved literally hundreds of plants and animals from extinction. Ipso facto, 18-wheelers and the

Endangered Species Act are good things. Right?

But what if you’re crossing the road when one of those big trucks tops the hill and bears down on you at 65 miles an hour? Suddenly the 18-wheeler isn’t such a good thing anymore.

That’s where we seem to be with the Endangered Species Act. It’s a good piece of legislation, but animal rights activists and anti-hunters are using it like a runaway semi, flattening hunters’ and trappers’ rights under the guise of protecting so-called endangered species.

Two of those species that have been in the news this year are furbearers. In Minnesota, it’s the Canada lynx. In Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, it’s the gray wolf.

You know the gray wolf story, of course. Re-introduced to Yellowstone Park in the mid-1990s, wolves were strictly protected and nurtured, and no group was more vocal in its support of this effort than trappers and fur hunters. In the huge, game-rich park, wolf numbers sky-rocketed beyond anyone’s wildest hopes, so much so that for a few years biologists feared that Yellowstone’s elk, moose, antelope and bison populations would be damaged.

But Mother Nature takes care of things like that, and the way She took care of it in this instance was through dispersal. Wolf packs started looking for greener pastures, and quickly established viable populations in all three park-bordering states — Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. In 2003, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service announced that the estimated population was 760 animals, and this number warranted removing wolves from the endangered list in the three states, if the states came up with management plans that would ensure wolf populations would remain at current levels.

Wyoming took the FWS at its word and quickly came up with a management proposal, but it was shot down in early 2004 because, according to then-FWS Director Steve Williams, the plan didn’t adequately address the requirement for maintaining the wolf population at the current level.

Which was all well and good, if you ask me. As an old, used-up biologist, I know it’s best to err on the side of caution when managing large carnivores. It’s easy to whack ‘em too hard, and it takes a long time to correct that type of error.

Now, though, there are more than twice as many wolves in the Yellowstone region as there were in 2004. Last March, after close analysis, the FWS approved the wolf management plans submitted by the three neighboring states and announced its intention to delist the wolf. But that apparently wasn’t good enough for Montana Federal Magistrate Donald Molloy, who on July 21 granted an injunction to suspend the removal of gray wolves from the list.

Molloy’s decision was the result of a lawsuit brought by a dozen animal rights’ groups, including Help Our Wolves Live (HOWL), EarthJustice, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity and the Humane Society of the United States, challenging FWS’s decision to delist the gray wolf. USFWS had determined that the wolves had far exceeded the recovery goals set for them: a minimum of 300 individual wolves, plus 30 breeding pairs. You’d think a population of 1,500 to 2,000 wolves, with more than 100 documented breeding pairs, would be far enough above the required minimum to be considered good news.

But apparently it wasn’t good enough for the animal rightists, whose true goal, of course, isn’t promoting conservation as they claim. Their objective is putting an end to hunting and trapping, and they’re using the Endangered Species Act to further that goal.

Judge Malloy apparently agrees with them. And while his decision might appeal to nature lovers in Washington, DC, it flies in the face of what most residents of wolf country want.

“In my opinion, without active management, including hunting, we will have even more predation, more conflict and more injury to elk herds, livestock and hunter opportunity and related economies,” said Cal Groen, Director of Idaho Fish and Game.

Studies indicate that one wolf can kill three elk a month. Do the arithmetic. If your eyebrows don’t go boink, there’s something wrong with you.

“It’s impossible for the prey base to withstand the onslaught of wolves,” said Tom Mayer, Idaho resident and co-founder of www.saveourelk.com. “Wolves have gotten into such numbers that we’re practically in a predator pit here.”

That might be a slight bit overstated, but the facts are indisputable. Wolves are efficient predators on elk, deer and moose, and fewer numbers of those big-game critters means fewer hunters and fewer sportsmen’s dollars for game management and true wildlife conservation, as opposed to the phony kind touted by clueless groups like HOWL and HSUS.

More facts: Since 1974, the federal government has spent $27 million in the wolf restoration effort. The wolf population in the Rockies is increasing at a rate of 24 percent every year. In 2007, in Idaho alone, wolves killed 52 cattle, 170 sheep and six dogs.

All the management plans developed by the states’ wildlife biologists went through the normal public comment period and were approved by the USFWS. All the plans are designed to ensure that wolves are not endangered again, and, in fact, one of the mandates of the Endangered Species Act is that USFWS monitor the wolf population for five years after delisting.

So, when Michael Robinson of the Center for Biological Diversity says, “The wolf slaughter is over. We’re elated,” keep in mind that there was never going to be a “wolf slaughter” in the first place. That’s not what a regulated hunting season is, and it’s just another instance of fact distortion and inflammatory rhetoric by the anti-hunting, anti-trapping sect, who have never been known for letting the truth stand in their way.

The North American model of conservation, unique to the U.S. and Canada, is the most successful system ever developed for wildlife. It is based on solid science, not feel-good activism, and it utilizes hunters for both funding and for balancing wildlife within local tolerances. It’s the system that restored and sustains prey like elk and deer as well as predators like mountain lions and bears. Given the chance, it will work for wolves, too.

The ultimate irony here is that Judge Molloy’s ruling discredits the same conservation system that enabled wolf restoration in the first place. It was state-based, hunter-driven wildlife management — including regulated hunting — that built the very elk, deer and moose herds the Yellowstone wolves now depend on.

Meanwhile, in Minnesota, a federal judge has more or less reversed himself and cleared the way for fur trapping to continue in the state when he ruled that a Minnesota DNR management plan for Canada lynx, a federally protected species, adequately protects against incidental take of the animals by trappers.

Earlier this year, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael J. Davis found the State of Minnesota liable in a lawsuit brought by the Animal Protection Institute. The suit claimed that all trapping of any species in northeast Minnesota should be stopped to prevent incidental takes of Canada lynx, an endangered species in the state.

Working closely with the State, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Legal Defense Fund (SLDF), Fur Takers of America, Minnesota Trappers Association and others convinced Judge Davis to allow the Minnesota DNR to make the management decisions regarding protecting the lynx, subject to Court review. Last March, Judge Davis ordered the Minnesota DNR to develop a proposal, by April 30, to “restrict, modify, or eliminate” the incidental takes of Canada Lynx.

DNR complied, and after more legal wrangling among plaintiff, defendant, SLDF, lawyers, judge, and the guy who sweeps the courtroom floor, Judge Davis affirmed the State’s proposal and ordered it implemented, thereby effectively ending the case in the district court, with all parties having the right to appeal.

The State’s proposal involved converting several non-binding recommendations regarding techniques for avoiding lynx into binding rules, while allowing all forms of trapping to continue. Overall, the result in the remedy phase of the case is a clear victory for trappers and sportsmen everywhere.

This lawsuit, which was obviously yet another attempt by the antis to ban trapping, could have established a legal precedent banning the take of a wide range of wildlife across the country, but it failed in that objective. While the Court set an unfavorable precedent on the legal issue of liability, it set a favorable precedent on the critical practical issue of remedy.

I suppose we’ll take our victories wherever we can find ‘em.

Jim Spencer, of Calico Rock, Ark., is executive editor of T&PC. To contact Jim, send snail mail to P.O. Box 758, Calico Rock, AR 72519 and e-mail to modernmountainman@gmail.com.

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