In 1975, wolves received protection as endangered species. There were only a thousand wolves left in Northern Minnesota at the time; today more than five-thousand reside mostly in the Northern Rockies and the Western Great Lakes region of the United States. That increase has now brought into view the future of wolves and if their protection should remain in place.
Most people involved in the decision to lift this protection do agree there is no imminent threat to the wolves. However, there is a disagreement about whether lifting these wolf protections is premature; wildlife advocates are upset by the idea of removing the protection. U.S. wildlife officials plan to remove wolf protections in the lower forty-eight states based on the success of their recovery over the last forty years.
Wolves numbers in the mid-twentieth century plummeted to near extinction. Farmers and ranchers did not live very cohesively with wolves for obvious reasons: wolves killed livestock which negatively impacted man’s way of life. In turn, this situation brought them to the solution to get rid of the wolves entirely. Wolves were poisoned, trapped and shot to the brink of extinction. Wildlife advocates fear this may happen again if authorities remove the wolf protection. An example to back this worry stems from what happened in 2011.
In the Northern Rockies region of the U.S., lawmakers lifted wolf protections in 2011. As a result, hundreds of wolves were killed annually in Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. As little as one region of the U.S. had the protection lifted, and now hundreds of wolves die yearly; one could only imagine what the numbers would look like if it happened nationwide. State and government officials do not see this as a massive issue for two reasons. They argue that, despite hunting, wolves will be able to adapt to the environments available to them. The other reason they tend not to worry is that wolves breed well enough to sustain the population even as hunters deplete it.
Wildlife advocates believe that keeping the protection on the wolves isn’t just based on their increased population but also their location. Fish and Wildlife Service has said wolves have recovered in the lower forty-eight states despite experts saying that the wolves only occupy 15% of their previous territory. The wildlife advocates believe that wolves would benefit from further protection so they may repopulate more of their old land in North America before deeming them “fair game” for hunters. A great example of wolves being introduced to an area and then expanding from it occurred in the nineties. In central Idaho and Yellowstone National Park in the mid-1990s, wolves were introduced and did great things for the ecosystem. From there, the population of wolves expanded into Oregon, Washington, and California. Arguably an excellent example of how well wolves can expand their territory while protected. However, agency officials say that to be no longer considered to be in danger of extinction recovery in all areas of the U.S. isn’t a requirement. Just because the wolves haven’t expanded into all of their former territories doesn’t mean they still need to be protected – but is the population ready to be taken off the list of protected species?
Many experts, biologists, and government officials have chimed in on this issue with different perspectives on the topic. One wildlife biologist, in particular, made a good point about the timing of removing the wolves’ protection. John Vucetich, a wildlife biologist, called removing the wolf protection “premature,” based on the current data available. He says there is no particular number or marker to go by that says a species has recovered. However, he goes on to say that when addressing the territory covered by wolves being at only 15%; this is quite a small percentage to say everything is fine. He also takes into account the wolves’ main problem: people. Wolves enjoy hunting the things that people want to shoot, and they eat things we keep as livestock.
So how can we conclusively prove that the hunting practices from before will not repeat themselves? We can’t. Even former director of Fish and Wildlife Service Jamie Clark said that the protection was explicitly needed to prevent “an all-out war on wolves.” Over the next few months, officials will decide if wolves will effectively lose their legal protections, which would make it open season on them in the U.S.A.
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