Photo by Barry O'Neill/FWS
The Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list was placed online for public comment on Thursday. Here is a species that's successfully come back from extinction—so, cause for celebration among nature lovers, green nonprofits and eco-activists, right? Well, while it is true the wolf isn't currently in danger of going extinct, no one is partying about this decision.
In fact, it’s quite the opposite: the Sierra Club is dubbing the proposal the “11th hour for wolves,” the Center for Biological Diversity is calling it a “critical moment” for the animal that spawned man’s best friend, and Defenders of Wildlife has called the Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal “reckless,” “misguided,” and “premature.” Each of these groups are now organizing an Internet campaign to flood the comments section of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposal, with 1,600 comments against the move already on the proposal at press time.
The main sticking point is the inadequate recovery of the gray wolf population in the Pacific Northwest, northern California, Colorado, and Utah. States that have removed protections for the wolf are currently inadequately caring for the animal too, they argue, which is worrisome when you think of the wolf’s place in managing the ecosystem. Wrote Motherboard’s Derek Mead last year on the wolf hunts in Yellowstone:
Without wolves, deer and elk populations grew, and because they’re voracious foragers, those growing populations fundamentally changed local ecosystems. For example, when wolves were reintroduced in Yellowstone, depressed beaver populations have rebounded. Why’s that? The presence of wolves forced elk, which once browsed heavily on the willows that beaver rely on, to be more vigilant and spend less time munching all of the willows to death. The end result is an ecosystem that’s more healthy and more robust.
Currently, the United States relies on civilian hunters to keep the recovered wolf population in check. Michigan, for example, is planning a wolf hunt this upcoming autumn. This form of wildlife management, however, is problematic for a variety of reasons beyond the possibility of overhunting: last year it became apparent tagged and collared research wolves in Yellowstone were being specifically targeted as trophy kills. If the biologists and scientists monitoring the Yellowstone wolves were in charge of culling the population, this wouldn’t be an issue.
Perhaps the United States should adopt a wildlife management policy similar to Europe, which employ hunters to manage wildlife in what is called the Revier system. (My Hungarian uncle, for instance, was a paid hunter.) The sanctioned hunters are tested in various areas including shooting proficiency and must be knowledgeable in various topics pertaining to hunting, including local laws and the biology and ecology of the animal being shot. Each hunter is in charge of a territory.
Given the prevalence of American gun culture, adopting this system for all huntable animals would be a hard sell, but officially sanctioned hunters just for wolves could work, especially if there is a prestige element. Right now states hand out hunting licenses per season: Michigan is handing out 1,200 hunting licenses to kill 43 wolves for this year’s wolf hunt. Limiting the number of people who can hunt wolves to sanctioned professionals would go a long way toward appeasing environmentalists.