Blog

Endangered Species Day 2015

The 10th annual Endangered Species Day is May 15th, 2015. The Endangered Species Coalition led the effort in establishing Endangered Species Day when the Senate first officially recognized it through a resolution in 2006. 

We have come a very long way since then! Thousand of young people participate in the annual Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest  and there are nearly 200 events scheduled in at least 42 statesincluding six events in U.S. National Parks. In Washington, D.C. we are celebrating Endangered Species Day on Capitol Hill at the U.S. Botanic Garden and through 7 other area events.

Find an Endangered Species Day event near you! There are events at zoos, museums, parks, aquariums, community centers, schools, and neighborhood gardens. 

Milkweed planting at DC Urban Greens Endangered Species Day event. Photo credit Amanda Milster, ESC.

Milkweed planting at DC Urban Greens Endangered Species Day event. Photo credit Amanda Milster, ESC.

On Endangered Species Day, we celebrate the conservation successes like American alligators, California condors, bald eagles, brown pelicans, and the many other species on the path to recovery thanks to the Endangered Species Act.

Additionally, this year’s Endangered Species Day is bringing special focus to the plight of monarch butterflies. The widespread destruction of milkweed has led to alarming declines in their numbers. To address this, many Endangered Species Day events organized by the Endangered Species Coalition are including the construction of milkweed “seed bombs” in the day’s agenda. By planting milkweed around the country, we can help monarchs begin to recover. You can find instructions for making a milkweed seed bomb here.

If you are unable to make it to an event in person, you can still take part through individual conservation actions, by taking these 10 easy steps to protect endangered species, or by telling your friends! 

Send an e-card:

Send a polar bear e-card Send a wolf e-card

Send a black-footed ferret

e-card

 

If you’re on Twitter, show your support for endangered species by tweeting about Endangered Species Day or take part in the Tweetstorm or Thunderclap asking President Obama to #LeadThePack and protect wolves! 

 

I’m tweeting for wolves with @endangered this #ESDay. See how you can take part! bit.ly/1EDYILX

I’m tweeting for polar bears with @endangered this #ESDay. See how you can take part! bit.ly/1EDYILX

I’m tweeting for black-footed ferrets with @endangered this #ESDay. See how you can take part! bit.ly/1EDYILX

Update: You can see some of our favorite Endangered Species Day social media posts on our Storify.

Students Ask the First Lady to Support Pollinators

 

University students across the country are calling on Michelle Obama to take action for pollinators for Endangered Species Day, which will be celebrated on May 15th 2015. Pollinator species, such as butterflies and bees, are facing serious declines across the country. These amazing species are not only natural treasures, but they are also vital for our agricultural systems. On Monday, a letter signed by 20 student organizations across the country  and a petition signed by 165 individual students were delivered to the First Lady in hopes that she will use her voice to protect pollinators.

As part of her Let’s Move initiative, the First Lady has created a White House Kitchen Garden, and in 2014, the first ever White House Pollinator Garden was also planted to support pollination and raise awareness of threats to pollinators. As Mrs. Obama shares a concern for pollinator survival, she is an ideal ally and voice for the protection of these animals.

Loss of milkweed habitat is causing a major decline in monarch butterfly populations. Monarch caterpillars rely exclusively on milkweed for survival, the loss of milkweed due to the use of GMO crops and widespread use of herbicides and pesticides is greatly threatening their survival. Monarch butterfly populations have declined by 90 percent in the past 20 years, and remaining populations have lost 165 million acres of habitat in that timeframe, in large part due to herbicide and pesticide use.

Native bee populations have also plummeted in recent years because of many threats including spread of diseases, habitat loss, climate change, and invasive species. The widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides has killed many and hampered the ability of others to return to their hives. “Neonics” are systemic; when applied, they infiltrate all of the structures of a plant, including its nectar. Neonics are very heavily used in agriculture as well as in residential and commercial settings.

 iStock_000007985649_Large (1)We are deeply concerned with the plummeting populations of pollinators across the country, and these university students are also working to provide habitat for bees and butterflies on their campuses. Planting pesticide-free pollinator gardens that include milkweed is an important step in protecting the pollinator populations that are necessary for human survival.

The First Lady is an important voice for pollinators. We hope that she will join us and take action to protect these important and amazing animals before it’s too late!

The students are asking her to publicly encourage schools, businesses, churches, and community groups across the country to plant pollinator gardens and adopt pollinator-friendly, pesticide and herbicide-free practices. If you want to protect the bees and butterflies in your community, consider planting your own pesticide-free garden with milkweed and other native plants!

U.S. Representative Beyer Speaks out for Wolves

Representative Don Beyer (D-VA8) has received more than 2,000 letters from constituents about the possible delisting of gray wolves under the Endangered Species Act. In fact, he says he has received more letters on this issue than almost everything else combined:

Citing the peer review panel that found that the administration’s plan to delist wolves did not use the best available science, he says that now is not the time to delist the gray wolf. He joined other members of Congress in signing a letter to Secretary Jewell asking her to manage gray wolves in a scientifically responsible and appropriate manner. 

Please email your member of Congress today and ask that they oppose any efforts to delist wolves.

Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest Semifinalists Announced

Following a very difficult selection process by the International Child Art Foundation, semifinalists in the 2015 Saving Endangered Species Youth Art Contest were announced today. The contest provides K through 12 students an opportunity to express their support for conservation efforts and to learn more about imperiled species. The contest is organized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Endangered Species Coalition, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and International Child Art Foundation (ICAF), the contest promotes national awareness of the importance of saving endangered species while recognizing conservation initiatives across the country.

The entries are judged in four grade categories. K through 2nd grade; 3rd through 5th grade; 6th through 8th grade; and 9th through 12th grade.

View all of the semifinalist entries here.

The grade category and grand prize winner will be announced on April 16th, 2015.

Great Lakes Advocates Speak out for Wolves in D.C.

Last week I was lucky enough to accompany conservationists, farmers and hunters from across the Great Lakes States as they converged on Washington DC. They came hundreds of miles to talk to their elected officials. They echoed the voice of millions of Americans who value our wild spaces and all the creatures that occupy them. We were joined by Barry Babcock and Sandra Skinaway from Minnesota. Barry is a decade long hunter and conservationist. Sandra is the chairwoman of the Sandy Lake Band of Mississippi Chippewa, and a long time wolf advocate. From Wisconsin we had Mary Falk, an organic cheese farmer who uses protection dogs for her flock. Also from Wisconsin was Melissa Smith, a Madison based Wolf advocate and conservationist. We were lucky to have Endangered Species Coalition board member Major General Michael Lehnert (Ret) join us from Michigan. (Michael Lehnert’s recent op-ed.)

Great Lakes wolf advocates in front of the White House.

Great Lakes wolf advocates in front of the White House.

Our delegation of Great Lakes participants met with some of their elected leaders and made clear their support of the Endangered Species Act. They did an amazing job reverberating our coalition’s message of support for the Endangered Species Act. Their compelling personal experiences in our nation’s wild spaces have left them with an appreciation for our ecology that few will ever experience. It was absolutely vital that lawmakers heard their voice so that they can better understand this important issue through the eyes of the people who live and work among wolves daily.

These voices came to speak out against any congressional attempts to weaken the Endangered Species Act with species specific attacks. Currently, there are two bills introduced in the US Congress that would aim to chip away at the Endangered Species Act, both H.R. 884 and H.R. 843 would not only undermine wolf recovery, but also the Endangered Species Act itself. The Endangered Species Act is one of the most effective and important environmental laws in our nation’s history. We have brought many species back from the brink of extinction. That is why it is so important we safeguard our progress by ensuring we have the strongest Endangered Species Act as possible.

I am grateful for the support of these amazing and dedicated individuals. We had an amazing experience and their thoughtful insights will go a long way to help our campaign. Please help us and make your voice heard as well!

Contact your federal lawmakers and tell them NOT to remove federal protection for wolves.

Send a letter to the editor to help spread the word about the assault on wildlife and the Endangered Species Act.

 

For the Love of the Lobo

Maggie Howell is the Executive Director of the Wolf Conservation Center, an Endangered Species Coalition member organization. In this interview with Zoe Helene, she talks about what endangered wolves sacrifice in captivity, the threat they face from hunters and ranchers in the wild, and her love for the lobo. 

This is a guest post from animal rights advocate Zoe Helene. (@cosmicsister).


 

I drove from Amherst, Mass., to the Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) in Salem, N.Y., to interview executive director Maggie Howell on a humid midsummer day. I’d asked beforehand if I could play with Nikai, an inquisitive “ambassador” pup being closely guarded by a large, wise German Shepard “nanny” named Kai. WCC curator Rebecca Bose, the wolf pup’s primary caretaker, had set clear boundaries for my play date. I could enter the wolf pup’s sanctuary space, but if Nikai chose not to come to me or let me touch him, I would have to leave without having that experience.

To better my odds with Nikai, I’d brought a basket of treats and toys. A dried chicken strip and a no-squeak teething pull-toy were the only two things that met with Rebecca’s approval, but they did the trick. Nanny Kai got a chicken strip first, and then Nikai dove for his, devoured it, and climbed all over me looking for more. Rebecca promptly confiscated the bag of chicken strips and hid them for later because more might upset his tummy. Tough love.

Wolf Conservation Center's Ambassador Wolf Nikai • “I think that there should be more candor when it comes to what goes on behind the scene when recovering species.” – Maggie Howell, Wolf Conservation Center

Wolf Conservation Center’s Ambassador Wolf Nikai • “I think that there should be more candor when it comes to what goes on behind the scene when recovering species.” – Maggie Howell, Wolf Conservation Center

Nikai didn’t seem to mind. He let me rub his belly and the soft golden fuzz on his ears. He was all boy—cuddly, curious, feisty and full of himself in all the right ways. He looked into, rather than at, me with keen, kind, undeniable intelligence. At eight weeks old, he was already carrying out his mission of helping people understand his species by bridging the worlds of wolves and humans—as if he were born for it.

Nikai was, in fact, carefully selected to be a WCC Ambassador Wolf—one of four socialized, captive-bred wolves (including charismatic Atka, intense Zephyr, and shy, graceful Alawa) who roam in open spaces, close enough for visitors to make deep eye contact, at WCC’s 26-acre facility. WCC, the preeminent facility in the eastern United States for captive breeding of critically endangered wolf species, is also home to about 30 Mexican gray wolves who are being reared for release into the wild through the Species Survival Plan (SSP). Ambassador Wolves are key players in WCC’s mission of helping people understand the species and its complex, highly politicized plight.

As Nikai played with the pull-toy—just like the three Siberian Huskies I raised—I thought about the sacrifice he’s making. He’s very well cared for and loved dearly, but Nikai will never be free.

Maggie and I talked about that as well as her particular passion for Mexican gray wolves (the smallest and most genetically distinct sub-species of the North American gray wolf, known also as the lobo) and the crucial work she and her colleagues are doing to save a species in peril. Because the sad fact is, without efforts by organizations such as WCC, both Mexican gray and red wolves would still be extinct in the wild and the remaining gray wolves would be right behind them. Before recovery efforts began, the Mexican gray wolf population was down to five: four males and one female who was pregnant with seven pups. These last remaining lobos were captured in Mexico from 1977 to 1980 and transferred to the United States to establish a certified captive breeding program.

Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) • “The most joyful part of this work is releasing wolves into the wild. The worst thing I face in this work is when those wolves get killed.” – Maggie Howell, Wolf Conservation Center

Wolf Conservation Center (WCC) • “The most joyful part of this work is releasing wolves into the wild. The worst thing I face in this work is when those wolves get killed.” – Maggie Howell, Wolf Conservation Center

“We advocate for wolves’ rights because they cannot speak for themselves,” Maggie told me. “It’s a toxic environment out there when it comes to wolves.”

These wolves are native to the North American West, Southwest and northern Mexico (lobo is Spanish for wolf), and they ran free from prehistoric times until the last century. Extreme predator removal efforts, sanctioned by the U.S. government from the late 1800s through the mid 1900s, exterminated the species from its wild ancestral landscapes.

Under the Endangered Species Act, reintroduction efforts have established a small population of 109 lobos, descendants of the last remaining Mexican gray wolves who were captive bred and released into their native territories. It’s a long, sad story wrought with fear, ignorance and profit, in which antiquated hunting laws and private (cattle) industry powers get in the way of real progress.

Even with an official protective “endangered” categorization, lobos face threats in the wild. Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has designated the species “experimental non-essential”—a loophole that allows extra leniency for “management”—lobos are allowed to roam only in small areas of public land also used by the livestock industry as inexpensive, subsidized grazing land. Occasionally a wolf kills a sheep or cow, and the “experimental non-essential” designation and accompanying special section 10(j) regulation allows USFWS to remove or kill the wolf.

USFWS’s rationale is that the species isn’t in danger of extinction because its genetics are represented in captivity, but adapting to captivity is weakening the species. This could result—and is resulting—in smaller litters, less successful breeding and decreased pup survival, Maggie told me. The WCC and a coalition of conservation groups have sued USFWS for failing to implement a valid recovery plan for the lobo, Maggie said, because “it’s crucial that the species be allowed to survive in the wild.”

A few highlights from my conversation with Maggie follow.

Mountain of American Bison Skulls • A mountain of of American bison skulls waiting to be ground for fertilizer (mid-1870s). Photo courtesy Wiki Commons / Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

Mountain of American Bison Skulls • A mountain of of American bison skulls waiting to be ground for fertilizer (mid-1870s). Photo courtesy Wiki Commons / Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

THE MONEY VALUE OF LIVING BEINGS

What goes on here at the Wolf Conservation Center?

We nurture wolves, advocate for their rights. We teach about 40,000 people a year (adults and kids, but mostly kids) about the importance of wild wolves in the wild landscape. We have 24 wolves and 13 Mexican gray wolves here, but they’re not on exhibit for the public. They’re in five different secluded, private enclosures. Our goal is to release them someday into their ancestral wild lands.

You’re also the coordinator for the Northeast Wolf Coalition, an alliance established last year. What’s that all about?

We’re uniting conservation organizations in New York, New England, and beyond to raise awareness and teach people the biological, economic and ethical reasons to facilitate wolf recovery.

How did we get to this point in the first place? Wasn’t it the government that gave the command to massacre the wolves—or was that coyotes?

Basically, it was everything. It was a way to get carnivores, or any other species they felt was in the way, off the landscape. It was about looking out for your livestock and clearing the land for farming. It was also a way to make a living. It was the same with bison. Have you ever seen that photo from the mid 1870s with the hunter standing in front of a mountain of bison skulls? Mind-blowing.

Everyone should know that photo. It should be in every schoolroom, every public library. It’s one of those pictures that tells a thousand words—stating the case on our (not-so-distant) cultural history. Those skulls were ground up to be used as fertilizer.

We recently screened a Natural Resources Defense Council video called Wild Things about Wildlife Services, which is a misnamed agency within the USDA that kills off wild animals. Every year, Wildlife Services kills more than 100,000 native carnivores and millions of birds, and they’ve been getting away with this for almost a century. Taxpayers foot the bill.

You see wolves playing a role in the economic system as well.

The economy is the ticket for wildlife. Yellowstone Park and the greater Yellowstone region, for example, have hunting and trapping seasons. Last year it cost Montana residents $19 to go out and kill a wolf. That was the wolf tag price. It seems unbelievable to me to put a money value on a living being. But Yellowstone visitors spend $35 million annually, specifically with the hopes of seeing a wild wolf. For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that right now there are about 100 wild wolves in Yellowstone. If you take $35 million and divide it by 100, you get roughly a monetary value of about $350,000 per wolf. Plus, these people spend their money at stores and hotels and restaurants so the local economy also benefits. Fewer people are likely to visit Yellowstone if these hunts continue.

I support the wild horse warriors, and most of what they’re dealing with is perceived competition for government-subsidized wild rangelands by cattle ranchers.

It’s very inexpensive to graze on public land, and most of it is public land. Powerful groups of people are passionate about what is going on with these wild horse roundups, and so much of what is happening with the wolves is very similar. It’s either recreation or industry; in this case it would be the livestock industry trumping the intrinsic rights of many species or the recovery of the species.

Charismatic Arctic Ambassador Wolf Atka • Ambassador Wolves are key players in WCC’s mission of helping people understand the species and its complex, controversial, and highly politicized plight. The Wolf Conservation Center's "Rock Star", Ambassador wolf Atka has visited over 200 schools, nature centers, museums and libraries helping people learn about the importance of his wild “brothers and sisters”. He loves to travel and has a spectacular howl, which he enjoys sharing with audiences.

Charismatic Arctic Ambassador Wolf Atka • Ambassador Wolves are key players in WCC’s mission of helping people understand the species and its complex, controversial, and highly politicized plight. The Wolf Conservation Center’s “Rock Star”, Ambassador wolf Atka has visited over 200 schools, nature centers, museums and libraries helping people learn about the importance of his wild “brothers and sisters”. He loves to travel and has a spectacular howl, which he enjoys sharing with audiences.

MOTHER NATURE’S DOG IN CAPTIVITY

Tell me about your wonderful Ambassador Wolves.

Our ambassadors are raised from a very early age by devoted staff and volunteers. They help teach visitors and students to understand the importance of their wild kin through personal interaction. They’re really the ones on the front line of the lesson, and they will never live free in the wild.

That’s quite a sacrifice.

It truly is, and it isn’t like they have a choice. We try to find a new way to thank them every day. We’re constantly asking ourselves whether it’s worth the sacrifice they make for their wild brothers and sisters.

So, is it worth it?

So far I think it is, especially because we’re so close to New York City. People who visit us here actually think about wolves when they might not normally think about anything even close to wolves. Through the Ambassador Wolves, they feel a very real connection.

It was such a treat to hang out with Nikai!

We only do this with Ambassador pups for about two months with the public. Developing a basic comfort level around people is vital for them to become an educational ambassador and leading a happy and healthy life at the WCC.

Wolves have such a close kinship to dogs, and so many people are crazy about dogs. You would think that more people would be advocating for wolves.

You’d think. I don’t understand why that connection isn’t there. I wish we could get more of the dog people involved. I like to look at the wolf as Mother Nature’s dog.

Rebecca Bose with Lobo Pup • “Being curator of these precious critically endangered lobos is a privilege, and holding this amazing new life in my hands is what it’s all about.” – Rebecca Bose, Wolf Conservation Center Wolf Conservation Center’s Curator, Rebecca Bose, bottle feeding one of F749’s pups from 2013.

Rebecca Bose with Lobo Pup • “Being curator of these precious critically endangered lobos is a privilege, and holding this amazing new life in my hands is what it’s all about.” – Rebecca Bose, Wolf Conservation Center Wolf Conservation Center’s Curator, Rebecca Bose, bottle feeding one of F749’s pups from 2013.

CAPTIVE BREEDING IS A DESPERATE MEASURE

Captive breeding is surely a desperate measure, but if you weren’t doing this, these wolves would be extinct. Lobos were just about “extinct in the wild,” right?

Yes. The red wolf and Mexican gray wolf were in crisis and about to go extinct in the wild when we took the last remaining wolves into captive breeding programs.

What’s it like for them in captivity?

Most of our wolves are off exhibit so they don’t become habituated, which means we almost never get to see them—which is hard for us because of course we love wolves. It also means they get appropriate food such as road-kill deer. They can also hunt within their fenced-in territories. They have a lot of natural social interactions. We let them be wolves as much as we can because how better to prep them for the wild?

Do the wolves have names other than the numbers?

We keep the alphanumeric names for the educational component and also because we want people to realize that these wolves are something much bigger than just our facility or their pack. They are part of a desperate recovery of their species.

How do you decide which captive-bred wolves get released into the wild?

Genetics governs most decisions. They look for wolves that will enhance gene pool diversity in the wild landscape. Behavior and health also play a role. A wolf that’s been on exhibit his or her whole life and likes people is not a good candidate for release. The wolves most likely to be released because of genetics are placed in facilities where they can be kept off exhibit so they don’t become accustomed to human beings and stop responding to humans the way they naturally should. Most wild wolves are naturally fearful of people—or perhaps have learned to become fearful of people because they should be.

Many people are fearful of wolves! Our culture insists on continuing to teach children that wolves want to eat us.

And we’re not on the menu. We’re just not the type of animal that wolves would be looking to eat—unless they were truly desperate and there was just nothing else.

You would think that as a culture we could mature beyond believing in fairytales with antiquated ideas and villains based on ignorance! It must be difficult to fight that. What’s the most challenging thing you face in this work?

When our wolves get killed. It’s always a risk when you’re doing the absolute best thing for them, which is releasing them into the wild, and then they’re killed by criminals. The first two wolves we released were both were illegally shot and killed shortly after we released them.

What is the most joyful thing you get to experience?

The most joyful part of this work is releasing wolves into the wild.

LoboWeek • The Wolf Conservation Center (@nywolforg) and a consortium of wolf-advocacy groups have declared March 23 through March 29 as #LoboWeek in an effort to get the word out.

LoboWeek • The Wolf Conservation Center (@nywolforg) and a consortium of wolf-advocacy groups have declared March 23 through March 29 as #LoboWeek in an effort to get the word out.

ENCLOSURE LIVE WEBCAM

Ambassador Wolf Atka

Ambassador Wolves Zephyr, Alawa, and Nikai: Wolf Rock Cam

Mexican Gray Wolf F613 and Children: Enclosure Cam

The enclosure cameras were made possible by a grant from Patagonia.

ONLINE RESOURCES

Wolf Conservation Center (@nywolforg)
Northeast Wolf Coalition (@NEwolforg)
Species Survival Plan
Endangered Species Act
Natural Resources Defense Council (@NRDC)
Project Coyote (@ProjectCoyote)
Yellowstone Park (@YellowstoneNPS)
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 

Scientists, Business Leaders, Tribes, and NGOs to Congress: Oppose Anti-Wolf Legislation

This week, more than 50 scientists, representatives of 5 Native American tribes, 24 business leaders, and 82 organizations sent letters to Members Congress asking them to oppose legislation that seeks to remove federal protections for gray wolves.

The scientists say in their letter that, “The  best  available  science  indicates  that  the  gray  wolf  occupies  a  mere  fraction  of  its  historic  range  and   therefore   has   not   yet   recovered   from   centuries   of   systematic   persecution.”

The letter is signed by 50 world-renowned scientists and biologists including Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich of Michigan Technological University, and Adrian Treves of University of Wisconsin, Madison. 

The letter signed by tribal representatives, business leaders, and organizations  from around the United States noted that “(W)olves in states that no longer have federal wolf protections have been subjected to increasingly hostile state management practices.” In it, the signers ask Members of Congress to avoid repeating the mistakes made when it passed the 2011 appropriations rider delisting wolves in Idaho, Montana, and parts of Oregon, Washington, and Utah. That 2011 legislation opened the door to aggressive wolf management in the Northern Rockies and weakened the Endangered Species Act by leaving it vulnerable to future attacks such as ones that are up for consideration today.

You can take action by asking your U.S. Congressional Representative and Senators to oppose any legislation that would strip wolves of Endangered Species Act protections.

 

Wolf Killed in Utah Was Grand Canyon Wolf

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service confirmed today in a press release that the wolf killed late last year in Utah was the Grand Canyon wolf that had been named Echo.

The Service used DNA analysis to determine that she was the wolf that had been made famous for her journey from the Northern Rockies to the Grand Canyon. She was identified by USFWS as 914F. She was collared in Wyoming on Jan. 8, 2014, and spotted in the Grand Canyon area in the fall of last year. 

The UWFWS said in its release an investigation is ongoing into the killing of the wolf, though early reports indicated that the individual that shot her told state authorities he was hunting coyote and believed her to be such. 

As Defenders of Wildlife noted in their statement, “coyote hunting in habitat frequented by wolves is deadly for wolves.”

Wolves are protected as endangered under the Endangered Species Act and killing them is a violation of that law. You can take action by asking the Obama administration to fully prosecute all killers of endangered species.

This tragic killing further illustrates the crucial need to continue to protect wolves in order for them to recover.

Twenty Years Later

Twenty years ago this week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists released eight gray wolves into the wilds of Yellowstone National Park, restoring the top predator to the park’s landscape after a 30-year hiatus. Before the year’s end, a female from the Rose Creek pack and a male from the Crystal Creek pack joined up to create the first free-forming pack of wolves observed in Yellowstone in half a century. Biologists named it the Leopold pack, after the conservation pioneer, Aldo Leopold. A second release of wolves into Yellowstone and central Idaho soon followed. Now, two decades later, at least 1,700 wolves roam the Northern Rockies in more than 300 packs. They are hunting, denning and breeding just as they had for thousands of years preceding their extirpation.

wolfphtoThe remarkable comeback of the gray wolf in the Northern Rockies is not only a grand success story of the Endangered Species Act, but undoubtedly one of the greatest achievements in the history of American wildlife restoration. Hundreds of Americans and westerners of all stripes came together to help make room for wolves in the West, including ranchers, conservationists, hunters, wildlife managers, Native Americans and even politicians from both sides of the aisle.

The restoration of wolves has produced a ripple effect of ecological benefits that would have delighted Leopold. In some areas in and around Yellowstone, over-browsed vegetation has been able to recover and regenerate as wolves have thinned and distributed highly-concentrated elk herds. And since wolves tend to prey upon weaker animals, elk herd health is strengthened in the process. (Biologists in Yellowstone have even reported that elk in the park are becoming larger and tougher now that they have another predator to contend with.) Elsewhere in the region, antelope fawn survival has increased as wolves have reduced over-abundant populations of coyotes—the main predator of antelope fawns.

While many in the livestock industry protest about the toll wolves take on cattle and sheep, in fact, livestock mortality due to wolves is relatively small and pales in comparison to livestock losses attributable to other causes. And livestock depredation by wolves can be significantly reduced with appropriate livestock management practices, such as using guard dogs, shepherds and range riders.

Similarly, some hunters have complained that wolves are decimating populations of elk around the region, but that is also an exaggeration. While a few elk herds have declined (for many reasons, including climate change, habitat loss and over-hunting—in addition to wolf predation), many elk herds are faring quite well in the presence of wolves. According to state wildlife agency data, there are actually more elk, overall, in the Northern Rockies than there were at the time of wolf reintroduction. And elk hunting success rates have remained high, especially for those hunters who are willing to walk.

As much as wolves are simple, wild animals trying to eke out a living, they are also hugely symbolic. For those of us who appreciate them, wolves are a symbol of wild places. And for those who despise them, wolves represent, in part, the federal government that returned them to the West. But I believe that the next generation of westerners will grow up accepting that wolves are simply one piece of whole suite of native wildlife in the Northern Rockies – not some mythical monster foisted upon the region. As I reflect upon the historic wildlife restoration event that was kickstarted two decades ago, I cannot help but wonder where we will be with wolves two decades hence. Will some of the seemingly intractable wolf management battles that currently plague western policy debate subside? I hope so.

 

 

Federal Court to USFWS: Relist Great Lakes Wolves

Breaking news from ESC member group Humane Society of the United States:

Sport hunting and trapping of wolves in the Great Lakes region must end immediately, a federal District Court has ruled. The court overturned a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service decision that removed Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves living in the western Great Lakes region, which includes Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.  

We have written previously about the urgent need for USFWS to again protect wolves in Wisconsin due to aggressive and unsustainable hunting and trapping,  and congratulate and thank HSUS, Born Free USA, Help Our Wolves Live and Friends of Animals and Their Environment for taking the lead and holding USFWS accountable on WGL wolf protection through the courts.

Read the release in its entirety here.