Sunday, May 12, 2013
A New Threat to Gray Wolves
By Jamie Bachar
More than 70 members of Congress wrote to the Obama administration in March requesting that the gray wolf be removed from the endangered species list.
In a recent letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 66 Republicans and six Democrats argued that the wolves, which recently lost their endangered status in the western Great Lakes region, no longer merit protection in the lower 48 states under the Endangered Species Act, according to the Huffingtonpost.com.
Wolves are among the most charismatic and controversial animals in North America. Traveling in packs through the wilderness, wolves are the oldest and largest ancestor of domestic dogs. These animals once ranged from Alaska to Mexico, but today their numbers have dropped drastically.
Wolves have been targeted by bounty hunters for their pelts since the early 1900’s. By the 1970’s, wolves only remained in remote areas of Minnesota and Michigan.
In 1973, Congress enacted the Endangered Species Act and officially protected the wolf that same year. Since then wolf populations have rebounded greatly.
During the mid 1990’s, the Sierra Club successfully got the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to reintroduce wolves into Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho. Today, there are about 1,800 gray wolves in the Northern Rockies and some 4,000 in the Great Lakes states, the Huffingtonpost.com noted.
On the West Coast, nearly 60 wolves have moved into Oregon and Washington in recent years. In late December of last year, one of those wolves made its way into California, sparking new hope that wolves may eventually recolonize some of the Golden State.
Wolves were once abundant across much of California with early European explorers documenting wolves as far south as present-day San Diego. All of them were wiped out in the late 1800s and early 1900s, often by government-funded extermination programs to accommodate the livestock industry. The last wolf in California disappeared in 1924, according to the Huffingtonpost.com.
Wolves in the lower 48 states occupy just 5 percent of their historic habitat.
Wolves are important to maintaining the natural balance, killing out weak and sick animals to keep populations of elk and deer healthy and in check. The benefits of wolf reintroduction can be seen throughout the region, from the reappearance of willow and aspen trees, decimated by deer herds, and to the return of beavers.
The Humane Society filed a lawsuit in February to restore federal protections for gray wolves that were lifted last year. Since the protections were lifted, hunters and trappers have killed an estimated 530 wolves in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
Recently, there was a shooting of radio-collared gray wolves from Yellowstone National Park, prompting Montana wildlife commissioners to consider new restrictions against killing the wolves in areas near the park. Radio collars on wolves are used to track the animals’ movement, often for research. They are also used outside the park to track down and kill the predators following livestock attacks.
Wildlife advocacy groups are pressing state officials to impose a protective buffer zone around the park to protect the species. The park’s wildlife and wilderness views draw 3 million visitors to Yellowstone annually. Hunting and trapping are prohibited inside park boundaries, but wolves range freely across that line, according to the Huffingtonpost.com.
Jamie Bachar is a graduating senior at Ramapo College. She is an animal advocate and lover of the environment.