Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announcement on Friday that gray wolves in Wyoming will be taken off the endangered species list was met with ire by wildlife conservationists.
Calling the decision "a death sentence for a majority of the animals," a coalition of environmental and animal rights groups have vowed to fight the decision and filed immediate notice of their intent to sue the federal government for stripping away Endangered Species Act protections from the wolves.
“Taking federal protection away from Wyoming’s wolves will bring the same kind of senseless slaughter that first drove them to the brink of extinction in the lower 48,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity, which has worked to protect western wolves for nearly a quarter-century. “Blatantly ignoring science and sanctioning the extermination of these beautiful and intelligent animals is a travesty. We’re going to sue to protect these wolves.”
Under new federal plan, the wolf population will now be managed under a state plan that delineates more than 80 percent of Wyoming as a “predator zone” where wolves can be shot on sight. In the remainder of the state, excluding Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, wolves will be designated a “trophy game animal” and hunted in large numbers, with the goal of reducing the population from about 270 wolves to 100.
The “Wyoming Gray Wolf Management Plan,” according to CBD, is nearly identical to one that was rejected by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2009 for not being protective enough of wolves. Wyoming’s latest plan does shrink the size of the predator zone for a small area south of Grand Teton National Park, but not by much and only for part of the year.
“Wyoming’s wolf-management plan is a body blow to wolf recovery in the West,” said Greenwald. “It’ll drastically reduce wolf numbers in the northern Rocky Mountains and cut off further spread of these animals to excellent habitat in Colorado and Utah.”
Protections for wolves in the rest of the northern Rockies, including Montana, Idaho, eastern Oregon and Washington and northern Utah, were removed by Congress via a rider on a budget bill and have been a disaster for wolf recovery. Idaho and Montana now allow hunting and trapping designed to drastically cut wolf populations, with a total of 545 wolves killed last year and more targeted for killing in the coming year.
“As with the rest of the northern Rockies, today’s decision to remove protections for Wyoming’s wolves flies in the face of all the best research that’s been done in recent years,” said Greenwald. “Just in the short time we’ve allowed wolves to return — in limited numbers — and reclaim their natural ecological role, they’ve quickly demonstrated they’re an irreplaceable keystone species. By limiting the amount of time elk spend along rivers, their presence has led to major improvements in streamside vegetation and water quality, benefiting fish, insects, birds, beavers and a broad range of other species. They’re fascinating to people and a significant tourist draw for states, including Wyoming.”