Gray Wolves Should be Removed from the Endangered Species List
For years now, the Gray Wolf, or Canis Lupus (Threatened), has enjoyed a prolific reintroduction process focusing on the northwestern portion of North America. This was no easy task. After a period of time throughout history when, next to humans, wolves were the most widespread mammal in North America (Threatened), the gray wolf attempted to endure the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries as a highly sought after game animal. Usually ranging between 70-115 pounds and hunting in packs (Threatened), these formidable predators are able to prey upon large hoofed animals such as moose, elk, and deer, not to mention domesticated cattle or even sheep. This fact, in addition to their highly valuable pelts, placed them in the foreground of the minds of hunters, trappers, and ranchers for over a century. So intense was their targeting, however, that gray wolves were nearly exterminated from North America by the 1930’s (Pletscher p.459). This prompted their placement onto the Endangered Species List in 1974, and an eventual re-introduction program in 1995 and 1996 (In Danger). This program focused on two areas: Yellowstone National Park and Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. After 22 years of being on the brink of extinction, wolf populations now number almost 1300 in the northern Rocky Mountain region alone (In Danger). This, however, may be a blessing in disguise.
With gray wolf populations on the rise, western ranchers are becoming concerned for the well-being of their livestock, and in turn, their own livelihood. Many of this countries’ western ranchers support themselves, and at times their extended families, exclusively through the sale of their livestock. With each animal bringing in between $1000-$9000 at auction (Cattle), the loss of a single cow to predators could be financially devastating. Some of the ranchers that are lucky enough to own property that is desirable to hunters subsidize their income by allowing them to use their lands for a fee. Coming from all over the world, these sportsmen and women claim trophy sized animals, the likes of which cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. Hunters, naturally, are looking for areas with high population densities of large deer and elk. They, however, are not alone in their quest to find a prize animal.
With the number of wolves that call this same land home, competition with humans for elk and deer is fierce. According to an article in The Economist, “elk make up about 90% of wolves’ diet in the greater Yellowstone region” (In Danger). However, outside of the park, where animals aren’t protected and elk and deer herds aren’t as large, the impact of a wolf pack is much more severe. Big game animals (like deer and elk) make up a very important part of the ecosystem. While we can monitor and control the number of animals that can be taken for sport, hands are tied when it comes to the devastating impact of the ever increasing number of wolves. In these same areas, where the human presence is much more prevalent, wolves are sometimes looking elsewhere for their next meal. Research taken from this same article in The Economist shows that in 2006 alone, “wolves in the Rockies killed 170 cows, 344 sheep, eight dogs, a horse, a mule, and two llamas” (In Danger). With maximum penalties of $50,000 in fines and up to one year in prison for killing an animal protected by the Endangered Species Act (Endangered p.35), the risk for ranchers and hunters to address the problem themselves is far too great. Yet even after the Deputy Interior Secretary, Lynn Scarlett, said that wolves are “biologically ready to be delisted,” (Knickerbocker) we still have to endure their protection. In order, you see, for a species to be removed from the endangered list in a given state, that state must have specific management plans in place...