Wolves miss delisting mark
Illegal killings blamed
"Illegal take in the past has also affected the
number of wolves, but this year they happened to kill breeding
- Ed Bangs, tri-state area wolf recovery leader for
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer
At the end of the fifth year of gray wolf
recovery efforts in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming, 410 wolves, including
about 25 breeding pairs, occupy the three-state recovery area.
That’s not quite enough to begin the
three-year countdown toward federal delisting of the animals. In order to
be removed from the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the wolves must maintain
30 breeding pairs for three consecutive years.
"It just didn’t make that 30
mark," said Ed Bangs, tri-state area wolf recovery leader for the
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "Illegal killings probably put us
below the 30 pair. If we hadn’t had that, we’d probably be at 30 or
In early November, Bangs predicted this
might be the first year of the three-year countdown.
"Somebody deciding to shoot a wolf
could make the difference of this making the first year of the countdown
or not," he said in November. "We’re that close."
Some Idaho wolves were, in fact, shot since
Wolves were illegally killed in each of the
three recovery states during the past year, and most recently near
Fairfield. Two members of the Big Smoky Pack were shot just north of the
town late this fall and early winter. They were the pack’s breeding
pair, Bangs said.
"Illegal take in the past has also
affected the number of wolves," he said, "but this year they
happened to kill breeding pairs."
Idaho has fewer breeding pairs now than it
did at the end of 1998 (10 at the end of 1998 versus nine now), primarily
due to illegal killing of the animals. During the same time period, Idaho’s
total wolf numbers jumped from 114 to 185.
"If somebody kills a wolf, all they
are doing is keeping them on the ESA longer," he said.
Wild gray wolves were reintroduced to Idaho
in 1995 and 1996 by the Fish and Wildlife Service under the ESA. Wolves
were also reintroduced in Yellowstone National Park in those years.
In 1995 and 1996, 35 gray wolves were set
free in Idaho. By the end of 1998, their numbers climbed to about 115, and
the most recent counts indicate about 185 wolves.
Idaho wolves are under federal control, but
jurisdiction will be transferred to the state when they are taken off the
ESA. Before delisting transpires, however, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming must
have wolf management plans ready to implement that ensure the continued
survival of wolves above the minimum species survival levels set by the
A Wolf Oversight Committee appointed by the
Idaho Legislature has been working on a state plan for the past year, and
the state’s lawmakers are slated to take a look at the plan during this