The image of a wolf howling at the moon has long embodied the American West, but that romantic symbol is about to get a taste of harsh reality in Idaho and Montana.
Next week, Interior Secretary Gale Norton is expected to sign an agreement that would place management of an estimated 900 gray wolves in the greater Yellowstone area into state, rather than federal, hands.
Different groups, including hunters and livestock producers, pressured state officials to give them greater control. State officials then asked Washington to make the change.
The agreement would give ranchers permission to eliminate wolves that harass livestock. It also would empower state wildlife managers to pick off wolf packs that make a dent in the state’s deer and elk populations.
Though both Idaho and Montana have approved plans, neighboring Wyoming does not. Wyoming is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency over the rejection of its plan, which would allow unregulated hunting of wolves outside of national parks and designated wilderness areas.
Up from 35 decade ago
The wolf’s revival in Idaho started a decade ago when officials released 35 wolves into central Idaho. Their numbers have grown steadily since then.
Federal rules have carefully prescribed when ranchers could act against wolves, requiring ranchers to catch wolves attacking or eating livestock before they could kill them.
The new rules will give locals more latitude, but some residents would like see an even greater offensive against the animal.
Ron Gillett, head of the Idaho Anti-Wolf Coalition, wants to “immediately remove them by whatever means are necessary.”
“They kill everything, all of the game first, then the predators, then each other,” he said, adding that they are outsiders.
“These are Canadian wolves,” Gillett said, referring to the fact that they were reintroduced from Canada. “The only place they belong in Idaho is in a zoo, neutered.”
Expert counters critics
Wildlife biologists say wolves roamed Idaho long before the region’s settlement and the threatened species was hunted to near-extinction before strong nationwide support prompted its reintroduction to the American West.
Carter Niemeyer, self-described “educator, peacemaker, moderator and referee on wolves” for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Boise, said studies show that the numbers of livestock and game killed by wolves are low.
“But I know they don’t want to let facts get in their way,” he said of anti-wolf activists.