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'Reckless, Violent, Massacre' of 570 Wolves and Wolf Pups in Idaho Bolsters Alarm Over Trump Attack on Species Protections

Wildlife advocates warn that if a Trump administration effort to lift nationwide protections proceeds, "this cruelty could extend to all wolves within our country's borders."

A gray wolf pup emerges from a den. (Photo: Hilary Cooley/USFWS)

A gray wolf pup emerges from a den. Conservation groups warn that the mass killing of wolves in Idaho over a one-year period that ended this summer "represented nearly 60% of the 2019 year-end estimated Idaho wolf population." (Photo: Hilary Cooley/USFWS)

Conservation groups on Friday raised alarm about the Trump administration's push to lift protections for gray wolves across the country after an analysis revealed how a record-breaking 570 wolves, including dozens of pups, were brutally killed in Idaho over a recent one-year period.

"This inhumane mass killing of wolves abuses federal recovery objectives and is one of many reasons why Endangered Species Act protection is so important for gray wolves nationwide."
—Zoe Hanley, Defenders of Wildlife

"It's sickening to see how wolves have been slaughtered in Idaho once federal Endangered Species Act protections were lifted," Andrea Zaccardi, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in statement. "If wolves are delisted nationwide, this cruelty could extend to all wolves within our country's borders. This treatment of our nation's wildlife is unacceptable."

Wolves no longer have Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and parts of Oregon, Utah, and Washington state but are still protected elsewhere. However, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Aurelia Skipwith told the Associated Press last week that her agency is "working hard" to delist wolves nationwide by the end of the year, calling the policy change "very imminent."

Skipwith's comments, along with a proposed rule change to the ESA announced by the administration last week, have been widely rebuked by wildlife advocates, who doubled down on their criticism Friday in response to the revelation that hunters, trappers, and state and federal agencies have killed 570 wolves in Idaho in just a year.

"Idaho is not 'managing' wolves but is attempting to reduce the state wolf population to the brink of federal relisting while jeopardizing region-wide recovery of a native carnivore," said Zoe Hanley of Defenders of Wildlife. "This inhumane mass killing of wolves abuses federal recovery objectives and is one of many reasons why Endangered Species Act protection is so important for gray wolves nationwide."

The new data on wolf killings in Idaho cover the period from July 1, 2019 to June 30, 2020. According to a joint statement from advocacy groups:

Included in the mortality are at least 35 wolf pups, some weighing less than 16 pounds and likely only four to six weeks old. Some of the wolves shattered teeth trying to bite their way out of traps, others died of hyperthermia in traps set by the USDA Wildlife Services, and more were gunned down in aerial control actions. The total mortality during this period represented nearly 60% of the 2019 year-end estimated Idaho wolf population.

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Samantha Bruegger of WildEarth Guardians declared that "Idaho's reckless, violent, massacre of wolves and their pups not only showcases the worst of state wildlife 'management,' it shines a light on the darkest corners of humanity."

"To maim, bludgeon, and actively seek to destroy a native animal, that is familial and social by nature, is disgusting," said Bruegger. "Tragically, the Idaho narrative clearly shows, to the rest of the country, what can happen to wolves if they are delisted from the Endangered Species Act."

"Idaho's reckless, violent, massacre of wolves and their pups not only showcases the worst of state wildlife 'management,' it shines a light on the darkest corners of humanity."
—Samantha Bruegger, WildEarth Guardians

Predator Defense executive director Brooks Fahy said that "time and again we see that removing Endangered Species Act protection and allowing states to manage wolves generally leads to mass slaughter."

Calling it "beyond tragic that Idaho has become the poster child for animal cruelty through their pathological destruction of wolves," Fahy also said that she finds it "hard to believe that most Idahoans would approve of this indefensible carnage being carried out on behalf of zealots in the ranching and hunting community."

Other wildlife advocates took aim at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) for incentivizing the killing of wolves within the state. Derek Goldman of the Endangered Species Coalition said it is "deeply disappointing" that the agency "is abandoning science and ethics in its zeal to eradicate wolves, when many nonlethal, less-costly approaches to conflict prevention already exist."

Talasi Brooks of Western Watersheds Project agreed that "there is nothing scientific" about the IDFG's so-called management of the species, "which seems to be guided by anti-wolf hysteria among some members of the ranching and hunting communities, rather than any sort of conservation ethic."

"It is cruel, morally, and ethically reprehensible," added Brooks, "and policy is set through a process which denies conservation interests any voice."

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