A controversy that continues to linger in the West and many regions across our nation is the status of the gray wolf. The reintroduction of this animal as a protected endangered species under the federal Endangered Species Act is resulting in significant growth in numbers of the wolves. Now after nearly four decades of protection, the success or failure of the reintroduction and protection is up for review.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service is conducting formal hearings on the delisting of the gray wolf. Delisting at its simplest level would remove a wildlife species from federal protection, but would give states the opportunity to manage a given wildlife species.
The most recent hearing was in Denver a few weeks ago. The service has studied all aspects of the wolf population. It is the same delisting process the service used in the ultimate removal of the bald eagle from the endangered species list. That outcome was based on assurances that a sound population of the eagle was achieved and that population would sustain itself over time.
One key element of the gray wolf protection and delisting isessentially unique to this wildlife species: the wolf has no natural predator other than man. That is not true of most other wildlife species, and as a result, the balance-of-nature concept becomes an imbalance, with the wolf becoming the uncontrolled predator impacting other wildlife numbers.
The service followed the same protocols as with the bald eagle and dozens of other protected game and bird species. Those protocols include determining the wolf’s reproduction rates over time, habitat changes, man’s impacts, changes in food supply, human population impacts and other issues that influence the wolf and wolf packs.
Interestingly, the eagle has natural predators other than man, unlike the wolf.
When this extreme predator imbalance exists, the numbers of that species (in this case the wolf) expand in unmanageable proportions to other wildlife species. And the expanded population seriously impacts other wildlife species to the point where those populations decline in numbers.
For example, in Northern Idaho, the Idaho Elk Preserve numbers plummeted 90 percent in a 10-year study period from the predation of the growing number of gray wolf packs. Montana elk permits have been reduced due to loss of elk populations. Studies are under way to determine what appears to be an abnormal loss of elk numbers in Yellowstone National Park following the introduction of wolves there.
The loss of such significant numbers of elk is unacceptable in the scheme of the balance of nature. This argument does not even consider the killing of cattle, sheep and other domestic farm and ranch animals by growing numbers of wolf packs.
Most reasonable wildlife enthusiast support sustaining healthy numbers of all wildlife. We are losing many of our important and valued wildlife species in all states where the wolf exists. The answer is maintaining a healthy balance of nature by delisting the wolf and allowing states to manage the numbers of wolves just as the states manage the numbers of other wildlife and game animals.
Outdoors writer Ron Hellbusch can be reached at Ron-Hellbusch@comcast.net.