Wolf reintroduction in the Northern Rockies, from inception to the present, can only be considered a colossal failure.
The wolves did their part – after they were trapped and relocated to Yellowstone National Park, they reproduced, built their packs, and expanded their range to a large portion of southern Idaho, Montana and northern Wyoming – where they obviously reclaimed a niche they had long served before their extirpation. Their presence reverberated throughout the ecosystems in which they live, checking the growth of deer, elk and bison populations through predation and, as a result, influencing species composition, forest regeneration and even stream flow. They killed very few livestock, and no person has been harmed by a wolf. They did their part, and the proponents of wolf reintroduction have been proven right, in terms of their forecasts.
But reintroduction has failed because of us. Humans failed the animals. This year alone, people legally shot and trapped 769 wolves – close to half the entire “recovered” population of the Northern Rockies. As a matter of the health and safety of wolves, this can only be considered a terrible, unconscionable outcome. It’s not just that long-studied wolves in Yellowstone were killed, though that’s bad enough – but throughout their entire range, they have been subjected to pain and suffering for no good reason, traumatized by the killing of family members, and turned upside down with the radical disruption of their pack structures.
If the metric for success was merely reintroduction, then that’s certainly been achieved. But if we are truly concerned about wolves – the animals as individuals, since that’s what they are – then there can be no compelling positive assessment of how they’ve fared. How can we countenance an outcome that results, in a single year, in the intentional killing of nearly half the entire population in the Northern Rockies? That’s not a pruning, but a pogrom.
Lawmakers in the Northern Rockies states, apparently goaded on by the hunting and ranching lobbies, have had it out for wolves since the inception of the idea of reintroduction. They never liked it, and fought it every step of the way. They possessed an irrational fear, even a hatred, of wolves, and they’ve had their revenge.
As soon as wolves were removed as a listed species under the terms of the Endangered Species Act, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming went on a killing spree, authorizing lengthy trophy hunting seasons (Wyoming basically allows year-round killing now), providing no safe zones for wolves, and introducing the use of cruel steel-jawed leg hold traps. Add in the methodical killing by federal Wildlife Services agents and the aggregate impact can be considered nothing less than slaughter. Hunters and trappers in these states killed 553 wolves this year (with Idaho killing 259 and barely besting Montana’s body count of 225), while Wildlife Services agents killed another 216.
I was uneasy when reintroduction occurred because I feared that wolves were being released into a hostile setting. That instinct was right. We should not reintroduce animals into areas where people want to slaughter them; it’s as simple as that.
There was praise and excitement about wolf reintroduction, and an abundance of science has now proved their beneficial ecological impacts. But no matter how well intentioned, that’s not enough. These poor creatures are suffering because we didn’t take the long-term into account and perhaps had too much faith in our fellow man.