Leaders of the Pack: Citizens from all walks of life come forward in support of wolves
By Nicole Rivard, FOA correspondent
“We ask South America to protect their rainforests yet we rape our land continuously. We rally behind animals like African elephants and African rhino and we condemn poaching of those indigenous species, yet we eradicate ours. Why are we so hypocritical?” asked Michelle Costello-Lettau during her testimony at a Citizens’ Wolf Hearing on Oct. 16 in Denver, Colo. . The event, co-sponsored by Friends of Animals, provided a chance for citizens to voice their opinion about the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's announcement in June that its plans to strip away endangered species protection for gray wolves.
Lettau, a school teacher from Littleton, Colo., made a plea for FWS not to delist the gray wolves and instead to work with animal advocates on a better plan for restoring wolves to the landscape while addressing potential conflicts with hunters and ranchers..
“Let’s not take a step backwards in the evolution of human compassion,” Lettau said. “My students are asked to question and research all avenues of any situation in order to become well rounded citizens and world class learners. I am asking the same of the FWS that I ask of my high schoolers,”
She went on to discuss the onslaught of bills to eradicate or cull the recovered wolf populations in several states.
“Most recent were the approvals of killing by any means necessary including the poisoning, snaring, shooting, denning and baiting wolves out of hiding to shoot them in cold blood and the use of dogs in the aiding of hunting wolves,” she said. “Wolves need some sort of federal protection as do all predatory animals or else it would be a free for all slaughter. Even game hunters are disgraced by and distancing themselves from wolf hunters because of their extreme and barbaric practices. Doesn’t that say something?”
Lettau was among close to 60 people who turned out for the hearing, which was moderated by Frederico Cheever, professor and associate dean, University of Denver Sturm College of Law; Dave Jones, environmental activist and researcher; and Annecoos Wiersema, Professor, University of Denver, Sturm College of Law.
“We collected great testimony, which will be submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service,” said Wendy Keefover, director of the Carnivore Protection Program for WildEarth Guardians, one of the the co-sponsors of the event. “Not one person supported wolf delisting -- that was surprising to me. I thought we would get a few voices calling for that.
“The quality of the testimony was so impressive. People spoke from the heart and shared the very personal reasons for why they wanted to see wolves protected, definitely challenging the FWS to reevaluate the proposal that they put out there,” said Caitlin Balch-Burnett, an outreach representative for Defenders of Wildlife.
“There were so many diverse viewpoints, which made the evening so interesting. We had people who shared personal stories of seeing wolves in the wild, seeing them in Yellowstone National Park… all walks of life came. We had a self-proclaimed ethical hunter come and say, ‘Yes, I am a hunter but I have no desire to hunt wolves.’ We even had a predator friendly rancher come and talk about the importance of wolves to the overall landscape.”
In June FWS proposed to remove the gray wolf (Canis lupus) from the list of threatened and endangered species (it was added to the list in 1973) after a comprehensive review confirmed its successful recovery following management actions undertaken by federal, state and local partners after the wolf’s listing under the Endangered Species Act over three decades ago. The Service is also proposing to maintain protection and expand recovery efforts for the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) in the Southwest, where it remains endangered.
Under the proposal, state wildlife management agency professionals would resume responsibility for management and protection of gray wolves in states where wolves are present. The proposed rule is based on the best science available and incorporates new information about the gray wolf’s current and historical distribution in the contiguous United States and Mexico, according to the FWS. It focuses the protection on the Mexican wolf, the only remaining entity that warrants protection under the Act, by designating the Mexican wolf as an endangered subspecies.
According to information provided by the FWS, gray wolves were extirpated from most of the Lower 48 states by the middle of the 20th century, with the exception of northern Minnesota and Isle Royale in Michigan. Subsequently, wolves from Canada occasionally dispersed south and successfully began recolonizing northwest Montana in 1986. In 1995 and 1996, 66 wolves from southwestern Canada were reintroduced into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho.
In 2002 the Northern Rocky Mountain population exceeded the minimum recovery goals of 300 wolves for a third straight year, and they were successfully delisted in the Northern Rocky Mountains in 2012 and Western Great Lakes in 2011. Today, there are at least 6,100 gray wolves in the contiguous United States, with a current estimate of 1,674 in the Northern Rocky Mountains and 4,432 in the Western Great Lakes.
The number of Mexican wolves continues to increase within the Blue Range Wolf Recovery Area. During the 2012 annual year-end survey, the Mexican wolf Interagency Field Team counted a minimum of 75 Mexican wolves in the wild in Arizona and New Mexico, an increase over the 2011 minimum population count of 58 wolves known to exist in the wild.
“From the moment a species requires the protection of the Endangered Species Act, our goal is to work with our partners to address the threats it faces and ensure its recovery,” said FWS Director Dan Ashe. “An exhaustive review of the latest scientific and taxonomic information shows that we have accomplished that goal with the gray wolf, allowing us to focus our work under the ESA on recovery of the Mexican wolf subspecies in the Southwest.”
“Gray wolf recovery is not complete. Wolves currently occupy a fraction of their former range,” said Justin Marceau of the Animal Legal Defense Fund during his testimony at the Citizens’ Hearing.
“The FWS’ actions threaten to stop the species expansion into these areas. State management may threaten the continued existence of the wolf populations that have already been established. This concern is not hypothetical. The treatment of wolves in states where they have been delisted provides concrete evidence that the threat is real.”
He explained that wolves have been delisted in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Idaho, Wyoming and Montana. Wolves had been able to establish a small and growing foothold in these states but when given the chance to manage these fledgling populations themselves each of the states has chosen to reverse the advancements made by wolves within their borders.
“Wolves may be hunted for sport in all the states where they lack federal protection except for Michigan,” Marceau said.
Marceau went on to say that in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming almost 1,200 wolves have been killed in the last two years. That is 70 percent of the 1,700 wolves that were estimated to be living in those states in 2012.
“In most of Wyoming there are neither bagging restrictions nor license requirements to shoot wolves,” Marceau said. “Hunters in Idaho may take 10 wolves per season, while those in Montana can take three. Under these management practices and given the limited number of wolves the continued existence of the species in these states is far from clear.”
He also pointed out that a fully recovered wolf population would be beneficial not just for wolves but for nearly every animal and plant in the ecosystem where the predators return.
“The gray wolf is a keystone species so-called because its presence in the environment prevents the collapse of the surrounding food chain and preserves the health and proper functioning of the ecosystems in which they live,” Marceau said. “Studies conducted after the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone provide a prime example.”
What the general public doesn’t know
According to the non-profit Predator Defense, which has been tracking wolf sport kills since the 2011 delisting, a grand total of 1,705 wolves had been killed as of Aug. 21, 2013. And 1,158 of these wolves were killed during the 2012-13 season alone. A following is the breakdown of kills by location.
Northern Rockies reported kills: 1,173 wolves
● Idaho: 698 wolves (454 hunter kills + 244 trapper kills). Season closed 3/31/13. The 2013-14 season is already open with three kills as Aug. 20, 2013.
● Montana: 391 wolves (294 hunter kills + 97 trapper kills). Season closed Feb. 28, 2013.
● Wyoming: 92 wolves as of Aug. 16, 2103.
Great Lakes reported kills: 529 wolves
● Minnesota: 412 wolves (213 hunter kills + 199 trapper kills). Season closed.
● Wisconsin: 117 wolves (55 hunter kills + 62 trapper kills). Season closed.
NOTE: This kill tally does not include the scores of wolves slaughtered by federal and state predator control programs. USDA Wildlife Services data for fiscal year 2011 showed a total of 353 wolves killed in the states, with 200 in Minnesota alone.
Balch-Burnett believes that many Americans aren’t even aware of these wolf sport kills and if they were they would speak out against the FWS proposal.
“One of the biggest issues is it’s not in mainstream media. And so people who by all accounts care about wildlife may not understand the severity of the issue,” Balch-Burnett said.
However she has been thrilled to see there are people on the other side of the country who don’t have the opportunity to see wolves everyday but are so passionate about this issue they are voicing their opinions to FSW.
“For our Washington, D.C. hearing we had people fly in from Boston and Florida and New York to testify,” she said. “That has to show to the FWS that this is an American issue. It isn’t only an issue that people in certain states care about. Americans still understand what the wolf symbolizes, they still care about what the wolf means and want to see it protected.”
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s rescheduled public hearing in Denver is Tuesday, Nov. 19 from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at the Paramount Theatre, 1621 Glenarm Place and the comment period has been extended to Dec. 17.Visit. www.regulations.org to submit a comment online.
Here are some suggestions on what else you can do once the comment period closes, courtesy of Defenders of Wildlife.
● Write or call your state senators and representatives so they can weigh in with FWS on behalf of their constituents.
● Write a letter to the editor of your local newspapers about the importance of wolves.