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Wolves of the Northern Rockies: The Real Truth!

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In response to USFWS Dan Ashe’s recent comments on the outlook of wolves in the Northern Rockies today, NWC  Education and Resource Director Diane Bentivegna provides the “Real Truth!”

It is scientifically sound to assert that the nature of calculating wolf populations is not an exact science; current wolf population numbers are merely estimates and not confirmed data.  Scientific studies show that human killing of wolves is associated with an increase in total overall wolf mortality; wolf populations will ultimately decline to dangerously low numbers due to this fact.   The altered pack structure that results from human-caused mortality is a significant concern because it results in additional wolf population losses beyond the mere numbers of wolves directly killed by humans.  The effects of both the loss of the wolves planned or expected to be killed by humans directly – plus an increment of additional wolf population loss that will result from reduced breeding and survival resulting from the altered pack structure has been inappropriately discounted in future wolf population estimates by USFWS..

In a recent peer reviewed scientific study, (Hunting Wolves in Montana – Where Is The Data? Nature and Science, 2011; 9(9): 175-182),   independent biologist, Jay S. Mallonee, revealed that the data collection methods used by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks re: wolf populations in the state did not follow scientific protocol.  Thus, the resulting data generated by these collection methods must be not be considered conclusive and should not be used as a reference point by Montana’s wolf management team as well as other wolf managers in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem.

In addition, the Recovery Plan’s target is 150 wolves/ ten packs per state, and based on what we have witnessed thus far, we have no reason to believe wolf numbers will not be driven to the brink of the target.  The Recovery Plan’s standard would provide for only 20 breeding individuals (two alphas in each pack). The best available science supports what is known as the 50/500 rule.  This standard for a minimum viable population indicates that 50 breeding individuals are needed for a population to be ecologically viable over the short term.  Under the 50/500 standard, 500 breeding individuals are needed for a population to be evolutionarily viable over the long-term – i.e. 100 years.  Because the breeding population is only likely to be 10 to 20 percent of the total population, the 500 rule translates to a total population of approximately 2,500 to 5,000 individuals for long-term viability.  [Soule and Wilcox (1980), Frankel and Soule (1981), Lande (1988), Lande (1995), Frankham (1995), Franklin and Frankham (1998), Fallon (2008), and Palstra and Ruzzante (2008).]

Based on recent announcements, it appears that the states of Montana and Idaho still seek to further reduce the numbers of wolves in the state using measures that some may consider unconventional and even highly controversial (i.e.: trapping, snaring, electronic calls, baiting and lures, poisoning, aerial gunning, etc.)  We feel these measures will not ensure sustainable wolf populations and may, in fact, increase the likelihood of relisting the wolf as an endangered species.  Montana plans to be much more aggressive in hunting wolves in upcoming seasons, according to MTFWP Director Joe Maurier.  In Idaho, wolf numbers are down for the second consecutive year. At the end of 2011, the state’s population was estimated at 746 wolves (at the onset of its hunting season), down from a high of 856 at the end of 2009. Despite this, Idaho continues an aggressive wolf hunt. Many believe that Wyoming’s proposed “shoot on sight in 90% of the state” wolf management plan, with its dual classification and a predator zone in most of the state, is not legally defensible. So now, Wyoming is looking to Congress to protect its controversial plan with another “no judicial review” law to prevent it from being challenged in court.

USFWS  has stated that a cut in federal wolf management funding comes along with taking wolves off the Endangered Species List. We agree, it is lack of funding and special interest pressure that drives these plans…not science. Once described by the American Society of Mammalogists as: “the most destructive organized agency that has ever menaced so many species of our native fauna,”   let’s not forget that USFWS was formerly the U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey which played a large role in the extirpation of wolves from the lower 48 states. While they may not be directly involved with killing wolves today,  it seems the agency seeks to pass this legacy on to the state agencies that will.  USFWS’s Mission Statement states, “The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s mission is working with others, to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife, and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.”   How does this apply to the bloodbath we are seeing now?   Those of us who want to see true recovery are the majority, so who are these American people they are talking about?

Diane Bentivegna, Ed.M.

On behalf of:

National Wolfwatcher Coalition

Board, Officers and Advisory

National Headquarters 401-884-2808



(photo by NWC Adviser Brandi Nichols)

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