July 25, 2008
Wolf Ruling Usurps Conservation Model
MISSOULA, Mont.— A federal judge has halted state authority to manage wolves alongside other resident wildlife, a ruling the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation calls “contrary to the North American model of wildlife conservation.”
A preliminary injunction was granted last week to activists who had challenged the delisting of gray wolves as an endangered species. The injunction cancels planned wolf hunts in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
“We’re disappointed. This ruling not only supports needless lawsuits, it fails to address real problems in those states. We needed active, local management through the respective state wildlife agencies,” said David Allen, president and CEO of the Elk Foundation.
“And it’s a sad day when unsubstantiated scientific theories can commandeer the very conservation system that made America’s outdoors the envy of the world,” he added.
The North American model of conservation, unique to the U.S. and Canada, is considered the most successful system ever developed for wildlife. Science-based, it utilizes hunters for funding and 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. Biologists—including those who led wolf restoration efforts from the beginning—say there’s no reason why the model couldn’t be just as successful with wolves.
However, in last week’s legal wrangling, activists claimed that wolves are not dispersing enough to ensure genetic diversity among packs. Veteran wolf biologists say the Endangered Species Act doesn’t use genetic criteria for delisting. Nevertheless, genetic connectivity was carefully considered and hunting seasons were structured to optimize mating-season dispersal.
Sidebar: Wolves were discovered in Oregon and Washington within a week of the ruling.
According to the best science, the delisting process and proposed hunts were biologically solid, but courts chose to forestall wolf management for the foreseeable future.
“The irony is that the judge’s ruling opposes the very conservation system that enabled wolf restoration in the first place. Remember, it was state-based, hunter-driven management that built the very elk herds that wolves now depend on,” said Allen.
Across Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, the Elk Foundation has led a wildlife habitat campaign that has conserved or enhanced 1.75 million acres.