This article ought to appear in every anthology of the finest environmental writing in English. -- blj
Obama's War on Wolves and the Endangered Species Act
by JEFFREY ST. CLAIR
I was prone on my stomach on a small knoll above the Lamar River, peering through my field glasses toward a stand of tall cottonwoods, their leaves a shimmering bronze in the autumn light. The morning air was crisp, hinting at an early snow in the dark, distant peaks of the Absaroka Range. The summer tourists had evaporated; I felt alone in the Big Empty.
I had ventured to this remote Northeast quadrant of Yellowstone National Park looking for wolves. One particular wolf, in fact, a female called 832F, the grand-daughter of one of the original pairs of wolves reintroduced into the park in 1996. She was the unrivaled leader of her pack, a gregarious and inquisitive creature, graceful and athletic, capable of taking down a mature elk by herself. She was also, by all accounts, a dutiful mother, caring, doting, fiercely protective.
I had seen her once before, a fleeting glimpse, two years earlier, a few miles from the Lamar Valley in the green meanders of Slough Creek, with two pups, a few months old, nipping playfully at her heels. Instead of merely watching them, I stumbled clumsily for my camera. Her ears pricked, she turned to me, gave a stern growl, as if to say “you blew it, buddy,” and vanished with her brood into a thicket of willows.
This was to be my shot at redemption and I left my Canon, with its intrusive lens, locked in the car. I had chosen a spot about 200 yards downwind from the fresh corpse of a bison, which was being picked at by a grouchy group of ravens. I had been settled in for two hours or so, crouched low in the tall grasses, when they came, silent as shadows, down through the cottonwoods, to the decaying body by the river. Even the ravens, those caustic critics of authority, quelled in the presence of the pack.
The two pups had grown. They raced each other to gnaw at the flank of the bison. Six other wolves, followed casually, waded into the river, lapped water and then began to feed on the carcass. After twenty minutes or so, the satiated wolves curled up near each other and napped in the sunshine. But Wolf 832F didn’t join the feast. She sat on a ledge above the river, her head held high, surveying the valley as the fall winds bristled across her shining coat.
Two months later, two of these wolves would be killed, shot by hunters in Wyoming, who were gunning for “radio-collared wolves,” which identified them as originating in Yellowstone. One of the wolves was 832F, the other was her mate.
Arguably the most famous wolf in the world, 832F had the misfortune of slipping across the invisible boundary of Yellowstone Park into the state of Wyoming, a free-fire zone. There she encountered an anonymous hunter, who had been camped out in the forest for 20 consecutive days, just waiting for one of the Yellowstone wolves to cross the sights of his rifle. There is compelling evidence that anti-wolf hunters in Wyoming had been honing in on the telemetry frequencies from the radio collars to track and kill the wolves as they crossed the boundary of the park.
In May of this year on the northern border of Yellowstone, a wolf-hating rancher lured another pack of Yellowstone wolves out of the park to his ranch. He baited the wolves by setting out sheep carcasses on his property. The rancher waited until park wolves showed up and opened fire, killing a black two-year old female, who had been born and reared in Yellowstone’s Hayden Valley.
In the past two years, since the Obama administration shamefully gave the green light to legal wolf hunting in the Yellowstone region, fourteen of the Park’s wolves (about 12 percent of the total population) have been shot or trapped outside the park’s boundaries.
The decision was shameful because we now know the decision to delist the wolf was motivated solely by politics not science. The review panel met in secret with Democrats from the state of Montana who vigorously pushed for the delisting, which they argued would be a crucial factor in tight senate and gubernatorial races. Meanwhile, ecologists who objected to the plan were ignored and three scientists on the review panel who were viewed as “pro wolf” were summarily removed.
The consequences for wolves and the integrity of the Endangered Species Act itself have been grim. In Yellowstone itself, the wolf population is in free-fall. Ironically, wolf populations in the park hit their high point during the Bush administration, with a count of 174 wolves in 2003. When Obama took office in the winter of 2009, there were an estimated 146 wolves in Yellowstone. That number has declined sharply each year. This year the park’s population has fallen to 70 wolves, marking a more than 50 percent reduction in Obama’s four years in office.
Even wolves in Oregon, where wolf hunting is outlawed, are not safe. OR-16 was a young black male, a little over a year old, born along the upper Walla Walla River. He had been radio-collared and photographed to great fanfare by Oregon wolf biologists in November 2012. Three months later, a wolf hunter shot the black pup near Lowman, Idaho. There is speculation that Oregon ranchers may have deliberately chased the wolf across the Snake River into Idaho during the height of the state’s wolf hunt. A posting by a Bill K. on an anti-wolf email group bragged: “If us pushing that wolf back over to be shot in Idaho works.. we will continue to push many more back for the shooters. hell we will even pay for the ammo. ha ha ha ha.”
OR-16 was just one of more than 500 wolves legally killed in Idaho in the last two years. And the slaughter is just getting started.
All this blood sacrificed for what?
Hearing in Sacramento Nov. 22 on proposal to remove gray wolf from endangered species list…Matt Weiser
Sacramento will host one of four hearings in the West on the federal government’s proposal to withdraw Endangered Species Act protection for the gray wolf.
The hearing will be held Nov. 22 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Marriott Courtyard Sacramento Cal Expo, Golden State Ballroom, 1782 Tribute Rd., in Sacramento. It previously had been set for Oct. 2, but was canceled by the federal government shutdown.
In June, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed removing the gray wolf from the endangered species list in 42 states, including California and Oregon. The proposal is based on evidence that the species now exists in sufficient numbers to sustain itself after being reintroduced in several states more than a decade ago.
There are currently no wolves in California. But a gray wolf known as OR7 spent more than a year in Northern California after migrating from Oregon. That wolf crossed back into Oregon on March 1.
Officials at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife expect more wolves to eventually disperse into California. They are working on a recovery and management plan for the species.
Environmental groups have petitioned the state to protect wolves under the California Endangered Species Act, a separate state law. That petition is still pending.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also extended the public comment period on the federal delisting proposal for the wolf. It had been set to conclude on Oct. 28, but is now extended until Dec. 17. This is the second extension of the comment period.
Comments may be submitted online by visiting www.regulations.gov and searching for Docket No. FWS-HQ-ES-2013-0073.
Comments may also be submitted by writing to: Public Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-HQ-ES-2013-0073; Division of Policy and Directives Management; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; 4401 N. Fairfax Drive, MS 2042-PDM; Arlington, VA 22203.