September 1, 2012 — Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced yesterday that gray wolves in Wyoming will be taken off the endangered species list and managed under a state plan that delineates more than 80 percent of Wyoming as a “predator zone” where wolves can be shot on sight. In the remainder of the state, excluding Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, wolves will be designated a “trophy game animal” and hunted in large numbers. The goal of the plan is to reduce the state’s wolf population from about 270 to 100.
A coalition of environmental and animal rights groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity, which has worked to protect western wolves for nearly a quarter-century, filed immediate notice of their intent to sue the federal government for stripping away the wolves’ protections under the Endangered Species Act.
The wolf-management plan, pushed by range and ranching interests, will drastically reduce wolf numbers in the northern Rockies and cut off further spread of the wolves to habitat in Colorado and Utah.
Protections for wolves in the rest of the northern Rockies, including Montana, Idaho, eastern Oregon and Washington and northern Utah, were removed by Congress via a rider on a budget bill and have been a disaster for wolf recovery. Idaho and Montana now allow hunting and trapping designed to drastically cut wolf populations, with a total of 545 wolves killed last year and more targeted for killing in the coming year.
In the short time wolves have been allowed to return — in limited numbers — to their former ranges in the West and reclaim their natural ecological role, they’ve quickly demonstrated they’re an irreplaceable keystone species. By limiting the amount of time elk spend along rivers, their presence has led to major improvements in streamside vegetation and water quality, benefiting fish, insects, birds, beavers and a broad range of other species.
Salazar has demonstrated a serious lack of concern for conservation issues. His appointment to head Interior was a clear signal to wild life advocates that trouble was in store. Salazar’s decision on the wolves is a piece with the way Interior has handled wild mustangs which, for the last two years, the feds have been rounding up and sending to long-term holding in record numbers, killing many of them in the process. Their ultimate destination is the slaughterhouse where they end up as horsemeat, a popular repast in France and other countries.
A product of five generations of ranching, Salazar represents a ranching community that remains wedded to the notion of manifest destiny: the right to claim the west for human endeavors. Their view that the west belongs to ranchers and by extension cattle, is deep and pervasive and continues to be backed by the government through subsidies and ridiculously low grazing fees. For all the talk from that group about freedom and independence they’re not about to give up their corporate welfare. By and large, wild animals interfere with their world view.