President Biden: Give wolves a chance


Wolves should be on President Biden’s mind. Biden’s 30 by 30 conservation plan is inspiring because it acknowledges the scale of protection needed to secure our natural heritage. A big part of that heritage is an abundance of carnivores like wolves, whose howls and large numbers were noted by Lewis and Clark as they crossed the continent in 1804.   

Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration together announced their decision to retool the Endangered Species Act by revising five rules that were altered by the previous administration. These rule changes will provide much-needed protections for endangered species throughout the United States. However, these changes will take years to make it through the necessary rulemaking processes — and gray wolves need help now. 

Gray wolves were abruptly removed from the Endangered Species Act by the previous administration. With no federal protections in place, at the end of February, Wisconsin hunters killed over 200 wolves in just under 60 hours. That was just the beginning of nationwide senseless persecution of wolves. Montana and Idaho recently passed legislation that sanctions the slaughter of up to 90 percent of the states’ gray wolf populations, with the killing starting July 1. Groups in these states are even offering bounties for dead wolves, further encouraging mass killing.   

This is not the first time that states have implemented the mass killing of wolves. In the early 1990’s, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game also embarked on lethal wolf control using snare traps and shooting from helicopters. Public outcry led to a boycott of Alaska in 1992, and in response, the governor of Alaska called a halt to the state’s plans to kill 300 wolves. The controversy prompted a special National Academy of Sciences study. After careful deliberations and examination of data, the National Academy concluded in 1997 there was no evidence that shooting wolves would yield the intended boon in moose populations for the benefit of hunters. 

Now over 20 years later, wolves are again being targeted for slaughter due to overblown claims of livestock killings and misplaced fears. When an individual rancher suffers a single livestock loss due to a wolf, that loss is significant and should be compensated. However, on the whole, wolf predation on livestock is remarkably negligible — the vast majority of unwanted deaths of cattle and sheep are caused by disease and weather, with wolves responsible for less than 1 percent of the unwanted losses.

Finally, there is no reason for humans to fear wolves. If humans are looking for wildlife to fear, deer are far more dangerous to people than wolves. Automobile crashes involving deer are responsible for 29,000 injuries and 200 fatalities among humans each year. Here is the irony: Because wolves help keep the numbers of deer and other large grazers in check, wolves save lives and prevent more damage than they cause.

Scientists have learned that wolves act as important ecosystem guardians by holding herbivore populations in check. Before wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in 1995, elk populations had overgrazed the vegetation. Streams were overloaded with sediments and beaver populations were depressed because of a scarcity of materials needed to build beaver dams. All this damage was reversed by the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone in 1995. Elk populations came under control, vegetation was no longer overgrazed and grew freely. Beavers returned to build their dams vital for the area’s watershed system and rivers. In short, this iconic American landscape depends on abundant wolves to maintain balance.

Wisconsin, Montana and Idaho make it clear that we cannot rely on the states to protect wolf populations — they have become too politicized. These wolf-hunts are set to undo decades of progress that aimed to protect wolves and restore iconic North American megafauna and ecosystems. If we wait another year for action, we will have set back conservation in western United States by thirty years. We need the Biden administration to step in now and immediately relist wolves as an endangered species before the mass hunts begin on July 1. Without intervention, a mass slaughter of wolves will not only imperil the species, but it will unravel entire ecosystems that depend on wolves to help keep them in balance.

Peter Kareiva is the CEO and president of the Aquarium of Pacific and was a member of the National Academy Committee that authored the 1997 report, “Wolves, bears, and their prey in Alaska: biological and social challenges in wildlife management.”

Tags American West Deer ecosystem Elk Environment grey wolf Joe Biden Peter Kareiva wildlife wildlife management Wolf Wolves
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