After being hunted to near-extinction, wolves in the northern Rocky Mountains have recovered due to federal management under the Endangered Species Act. But wolves will be "delisted" under a rider to the recent budget bill, and environmentalists are howling.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks/AP
When 66 Canadian wolves were released into Yellowstone National Park and Idaho 15 years ago, it was a last-ditch effort to revive an iconic species that had been hunted to near-extinction across most of the United States.
To the delight of biologists and environmental activists, the wily, carnivorous wolves quickly formed up into packs, spreading throughout the northern Rocky Mountains and across the Snake River into Oregon. By the end of 2010, according to the US Fish & Wildlife Service, they numbered at least 1,651 in 244 packs and 111 breeding pairs.
In Yellowstone, according to biologists, that changed the behavior and numbers of wolves’ main prey: elk, which had become lazy with no one to keep them on the move. Elk numbers decreased, streams and rivers ran cooler and cleaner, benefiting fish populations as well.
It seemed to be a winning outcome all around. Except for one other species: those who saw wolves as a threatening competitor to domestic livestock (which wolves feed on now and then) and to hunters who now had to work a little harder to bag that trophy bull elk.
With the wolves’ comeback, all interested parties were working on a plan to “delist” the animal under the Endangered Species Act. As is typically the case with major environmental issues, federal courts had gotten involved in the effort to turn over wolf management to states.
This week Congress jumped into the fray. In a brief rider attached to the budget bill for FY 2011, lawmakers – with the Obama administration’s assent, however reluctant – removed wolves in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and Utah from the federal endangered species list, returning wolf management to the states.