On Friday, March 28, the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) removed federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections for gray wolves living in the Greater Yellowstone and Northern Rockies region. Just one month earlier, the Bush administration handed down a license-to-kill rule to hunters in Wyoming and Idaho —where the majority of the region's 1,500 wolves reside.
Together, these two actions transfer wolf management to individual states and will allow the slaughter of hundreds of wolves by trapping, hunting and aerial gunning. Now classified as a trophy game mammal in parts of Wyoming and as a predator in other regions, the once-fully protected gray wolf currently shares "varmint" status with coyotes, skunks, jackrabbits and stray cats in much of the state.
Within five days of removal of federal ESA protections, at least 10 wolves were shot in Wyoming and Idaho, and several organized wolf hunts were reportedly carried out near Jackson Hole, Wy. Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter has vowed to "bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf," while Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal stated, "In terms of reducing the packs, that's always been a state objective from the outset."
Wolf populations could be reduced by as much as 80 percent in the tri-state region, from an estimated 1,500 to only 300 wolves, even though many scientists believe that assuring the future of this still-recovering species would require a population of somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 animals.
Wolves fare no better in the Southwest, where fewer than 55 endangered Mexican gray wolves remain in the wolf recovery area of New Mexico and Arizona. While Mexican gray wolves will retain their endangered species status in the region, the FWS has authorized the removal of 70 Mexican wolves over the past decade at the behest of public lands livestock ranchers. Population numbers are further threatened by the fact that only four breeding pairs remain in the area.
After spending millions of taxpayer dollars to recover gray wolves from the brink of extinction over the last decade, the FWS appears poised to allow their systematic extermination for a second time. Wildlife advocacy organizations have filed several lawsuits challenging the US government's actions to remove federal protections for gray wolves across the country.