Dead Wolves Walking

Wolf Hunts Scheduled in Idaho & Montana Unless Federal Judge Intervenes

Since April, when Congress removed gray wolves in Idaho and Montana from the protection of the Endangered Species Act by inserting a rider in a federal budget bill, state governments have been racing to prepare for wolf hunts this fall. (Read Gibson's compelling report, "Cry Wolf", on the issue in the Journal's Summer 2011 edition.)

Photo by dalliedee

So far, Idaho’s winning the race. In early July, the state’s fish and game director Virgil Moore announced a full seven-month hunting season — from the end of August to the end of March. Hunters can use any weapon they choose, utilize electronic calls to lure wolves within range, and kill two each. Trappers can kill three. Of the estimated 700 plus wolves in Idaho, all but 150 — just under 80 percent — can be killed. Director Moore says this many wolves need to die in order to remove “social and biological conflicts” between elk hunters and ranchers and the wolves. If the hunters don’t have the right stuff, then the State of Idaho will step up to the job, deploying helicopter-borne shooters equipped with radio telemeters to track wolves wearing transmitters. “We will get at them whether the hunting season is open or not,” Moore vows.

Montana trails far behind in this macabre contest, planning a modest hunt to remove only 220 of the state’s estimated 560 wolves, roughly 40 percent. Thus far the state has not announced plans to launch its own air assault if the hunters fail, but last year the federal government’s Wildlife Services in Montana killed more than 200 wolves accused by ranchers of depredation against livestock.

Poor Wyoming, a perennial wallflower, got left out of the April budget rider that delisted wolves because the state never developed a wolf management the US Fish and Wildlife Service considered even vaguely credible. For years Wyoming officials argued that 150 wolves living in the state’s northwest near Yellowstone National Park were the only ones off-limits:  all other wolves in the rest of the state would be declared vermin, subject to an open season. But in early July, Secretary of the Interior Kenneth Salazar and Wyoming Governor Matt Mead announced that they had agreed “in principle” to remove wolves from federal protection. A version of Wyoming’s previously rejected plan will now be accepted by the US Fish and Wildlife Service: the other 190 wolves in the state, 56 percent of an estimated 340, can be killed.

A wolf bloodbath appears likely. But the constitutionality of the April budget rider faces legal challenge from the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Wild Earth Guardians, Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, and others. Plaintiffs argue that since the legislation did not actually change the language of the Endangered Species Act, but instead intervened in ongoing litigation in a federal court, then the bill represents an unconstitutional violation of the separation of powers. Judge Molloy in Missoula’s federal district court hears oral arguments on July 26 and is expected to rule within weeks. If the conservationists win, the fall hunts will be cancelled while state and federal officials search for options.

Wolf advocates have declared August to be a month for organizing “Howl Across America” rallies to discuss strategies, such as how to exploit the photos of dead wolves that will appear if the hunts go forward and how to revitalize the movement when the Republican Party actively demonizes wolves and the Democrats do nothing but passively consent.  

James William Gibson is a professor of sociology at California State University, Long Beach, and a Faculty Fellow at Yale University’s Center for Cultural Sociology.

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