The federal government announced Thursday that it is taking the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf off the endangered species list.
Reintroduction started 13 years ago with 66 wolves. There are now about 1500 animals spread mostly throughout Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. And there are also a few in Eastern Oregon.
But, as Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, several environmental groups say the delisting comes much too soon and they plan to file suit next week.
After hunters and settlers decimated the buffalo populations in the latter half of the 19th century, wolves turned to other sources of food -- including livestock.
The response was bounty hunting and a ‘shoot on sight’ mentality. By the 1930s there were no longer any wolf packs living in the U.S.
Then in 1995, the states, tribes and federal government introduced 66 animals into Idaho.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Recovery coordinator, Ed Bangs, says the program has been a great success.
Ed Bangs: “The fact that we’ve restored a wolf population, we’ve got more wolves in more places than we ever hoped, with fewer problems than we hoped. It’s a pretty good feeling to know that this final part of this recovery project is happening, and the future conservation of wolves is secure in state hands.”
The federal government now plans to de-list the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf and hand control over to the states.
Montana, Idaho and Wyoming have each developed plans, which call for at least 15 pairs and 150 individuals in each state.
But Suzanne Stone, with Defenders of Wildlife, says that's only about 450 wolves.
Suzanne Stone: “So they’re talking about killing well over half the population here immediately after delisting. And certainly in Wyoming for example, wolves would lose protection from 90 percent of the state. And after these federal protections are removed, anyone can kill a wolf by any means, so it’s a plan that goes way too far. It’s too aggressive and it doesn’t provide enough protection for wolves.”
Defenders of Wildlife, the Sierra Club, Earth Justice and several other environmental groups plan to file suit next week – saying the Bush Administration is shirking its responsibilities.
Oregon is not one of the states that had to draw up a wolf plan, but did anyway. Several animals have swum across the Snake River in search of new territory.
Stone says researchers have just learned that one female is now living in the Eagle Cap wilderness.
Suzanne Stone: “As soon as the delisting occurs, under the current conditions, she would have no protection. So she could be the only wolf in the state and yet lose all her federal protection, because of the inadequacies of this wolf delisting plan.”
But Oregon’s management plan does offer wolves protection under the State Endangered Species Act.
Russ Morgan with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, says the state has no plan to de-list the animal until there’s proof four breeding pairs are living here in Oregon.
Russ Morgan: “Remember four breeding pairs equates to even more packs than that, and a bit of a higher population. So while it is a fairly low threshold, there’s every evidence to believe that if we achieved four breeding pairs, we would have a sustainable population.”
There is one problem with the state plan, however. And that’s a lack of money. Russ Morgan says the federal government spent $3 million last year looking after populations in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
Russ Morgan: “Future funding of Wolf Management Oregon is of concern. We have had discussions and been in on going discussions with the Fish and Wildlife Service about that. Right now we’re currently under state wildlife grant funding for wolf management.”
But that money is cyclical and far from guaranteed.
If four breeding pairs are established in Oregon, the state would then allow some form of management.
That would probably take the form of shooting animals that attack livestock.
Across the boarder in Idaho, federal agents report that they have to kill about 10 percent of their wolves every year because of such attacks.