Gray wolves threatened once again

By Delia Malone
RMC Executive Committee

gray wolf
Gray Wolf
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Once upon a time not so long ago—but before the era of European settlers—wolves ranged widely across the North Americancontinent. This was a time when ecological processes were intact and ecosystems functioned to enable sustainable herds of elk, abundant and diverse communities of songbirds, and stream habitat where native fish dominated.

With the coming of modern man, that time and those ecological functions have been severely degraded by anthropogenic alterations to natural communities. Among the most egregious and degrading of those alterations was the extirpation of the gray wolf. With the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone in 1995 ecosystems began to recover. Tragically, both wolf and ecosystem recoveries are threatened.

Wolves continue to need our protection. Last November hundreds of people gathered at the Paramount Theatre in Denver to testify in front of representatives from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding their proposal to strip Endangered Species Act (ESA) protection from gray wolves. The vast majority of those testifying, including ranchers, hunters, grandmothers, children and professors, adamantly supported maintaining ESA protection for the wolves.

Sierra Club, in collaboration with several other conservation organizations including Defenders of Wildlife, Wild Earth Guardians, Rocky Mountain Wild, The Humane Society and California Wolf Center joined forces to encourage participation at the hearing. These groups also coordinated a pre-hearing rally where participants were briefed on the desperate situation that wolves now face.

Removal of ESA protection in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming has resulted in dramatic reductions in wolf populations due to unsustainable hunting quotas and illegal killing where wolf management has been turned over to local control. In 2012 an estimated 1,585 wolves lived in the Northwest and 75 in the Southwest; the total number of wolves legally killed by hunting and trapping from 2011-2013 were 1,710: Idaho, 699; Montana, 391; and Wyoming, 90. 

Wolf management in these states has set recovery on its heels, consequences which likely warrant renewed ESA protection to prevent wolves from sliding back toward extinction. Wolf population declines in these states emphatically illustrate the need for continued federal protection of all wolf populations.

To adequately protect and restore viable gray wolf populations, the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club promotes full ESA protection of all gray wolves and subspecies, including the Mexican Wolf, throughout their historic range, which includes Colorado. To achieve full and continued ESA protection the Sierra Club continues to work to educate and encourage the public and lawmakers to provide gray wolves with both federal and state protection.

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