By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
We are fighting hard right now for wolves with legal petitions, lawsuits and lobbying pressure designed to protect this most besieged wildlife species. This is a perilous time as one state after another has surrendered to trophy hunters and special interest groups seeking to kill wolves. At the same time, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s response to the terrible carnage of the last several years has been bureaucratic, complacent and unhurried. The federal government can and should act decisively to abate what has now become an authentic crisis. Without federal protection, wolves haven’t got a chance to survive in those states that have proven, again and again, their disregard for the scientific, ecological and ethical case for the species.
In the latest horrifying instance, Montana wildlife officials relaxed hunting and trapping regulations and removed quota limits for killing wolves in areas bordering Yellowstone National Park. Idaho has joined in the race to the moral bottom, too, permitting once-prohibited forms of hunting and trapping in areas close to national parks. The result is appalling. In just a few months, trophy hunters have shot and killed at least 20 gray wolves who wandered out of Yellowstone’s boundaries, 15 in Montana and five in Idaho and Wyoming. So many wolves from the Phantom Lake Pack were killed that Yellowstone National Park officials now consider that entire wolf family “eliminated.” That leaves an estimated 94 wolves alive in Yellowstone. Understanding that wolves provide remarkable ecological benefits and have become an engine of ecotourism in the Yellowstone region (greatly surpassing trophy hunters’ economic contributions), this conversion of Yellowstone’s boundaries into a shooting gallery is the epitome of human folly. The billions of dollars Americans have invested in wolf restoration efforts just in the Northern Rocky Mountains could be lost in the blink of an eye.
The killings in the Yellowstone region, and the larger kill totals in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming over the last year, together with Wisconsin’s three-day massacre of 216 wolves in February 2021, provide the clear case for restoration of federal protection for wolves under the Endangered Species Act. Trigger-happy states cannot be trusted or relied upon to implement and maintain regulations to ensure their survival. Quite the opposite. These state wildlife agencies are servants to powerful special interests that drive the persecution of wolves in the modern era.
A January Remington poll suggests that 75% of Americans oppose trophy hunting of wolves, including 66% of Republicans and 84% of Democrats. As we have so often witnessed, however, when it comes to political capture by the trophy hunting lobby, the state wildlife agencies are an easy target.
We are fighters, not bystanders, in this hot war over the fate of America’s wolves. Our program teams build the technical and scientific cases for their preservation. Our government and state affairs teams fight off threats to wolves’ survival through direct engagement with the federal and state agencies involved and by mobilizing with environmental organizations, scientists and First Nation tribal leaders, while our animal protection law team uses litigation and petitions to restore and defend endangered species protections for the species.
In January 2021, after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service dropped gray wolves in the lower 48 states from its list of endangered and threatened species under the prior administration, we joined with partners and filed suit to restore endangered species protection for wolves. We understood that the federal action would expose wolf populations to unrestrained trophy hunting in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, a functional abandonment of the vision for the wider recovery of wolves throughout their historic range.
In May 2021, the Humane Society of the U.S., the Humane Society Legislative Fund and allies filed a petition asking the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore federal Endangered Species Act protections to wolves in the Northern Rockies in light of the Idaho and Montana legislation. Specifically, we petitioned the Fish and Wildlife Service for both permanent and emergency relisting of gray wolves in the Northern Rockies, where wolves were delisted through a congressional “carve-out” dating to 2011.
In June 2021, with our allies, we filed a petition with the U.S. Forest Service, asking the agency to use its authority under the Wilderness Act to enact new regulations to prohibit wolf trapping and snaring in designated wilderness areas. Paying bounties and deploying professional contractors to kill wolves on federal land is an affront to the values enshrined in the Wilderness Act.
In December 2021, with allied organizations, we filed a federal lawsuit challenging Idaho’s radically expanded wolf trapping and snaring program. Indiscriminate and lethal traps and snares injure and kill wolves and non-target animals, including grizzly bears and Canada lynx, who remain federally listed as “threatened.” We’re seeking an injunction to halt wolf trapping and snaring in grizzly and lynx habitat.
Finally, just last week we filed an amicus brief with the Wisconsin Supreme Court in support of Attorney General Josh Kaul’s lawsuit to remove squatter Frederick Prehn from the state Natural Resources Board—an action spurred by our complaint last summer. Prehn has brazenly refused to step down from the Board even though his legal term expired on May 1, 2021. In the nine months since his legitimate term expired, he’s continued to push policies extremely hostile to the state’s wolf population, including the almost unprecedented decision to enact a fall hunting quota that exceeded by more than double the quota recommended by state biologists.
We expect a decision to come in one or more of these situations soon, and we expect to succeed in some if not all of them. We will file as many petitions and lawsuits as it takes to save these animals. The protection of wolves is both legally required and scientifically necessary if they are to recover and survive in North America. Their very lives depend on the restoration of their protected status and that’s what we’re fighting for.
The history of our nation’s persecution of wolves makes for grim reading, and now, Montana, Idaho, Wyoming and several other states are trying to add a ghastly new chapter. Together, we must stop them, and together, we will stop them.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.