Cheese. (popehippo) wrote in ontd_political,
Cheese.
popehippo
ontd_political

Starting today, hunters can walk into any license vendor in Idaho and buy a tag to kill a gray wolf.

Vendors such as Daniel Stephenson, owner of River of No Return Taxidermy in Salmon, Idaho, expect robust demand.

"In our area, there're lots of [wolves] and they're not a real popular thing for deer and elk hunters," Stephenson said. "So everybody wants a chance to go get one."

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission approved a plan August 17 to allow up to 220 wolves to be killed by the public this coming fall and winter. Licensed hunters will be allowed to kill wolves starting September 1. Most hunting will be finished by December 31.

Montana, another state with a growing wolf population, already approved a 75-animal quota for its wolf hunt, which gets underway September 15 and lasts until November 29.

Both hunts come just months after the predators were removed from protection under the federal Endangered Species Act.

But there's still a chance wolf season won't open this year.

A coalition of environmental groups, including the Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, filed a motion August 20 in a federal district court to block the wolf hunts, pending the outcome of a lawsuit seeking to restore federal protections for the wolves.

A hearing on the motion is set for August 31.

The groups, represented by the environmental law firm Earthjustice, argue that wolf populations in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming are isolated from each other and thus unable to interbreed.

Genetic diversity is considered crucial for a species to survive, especially one that's still struggling to rebound. That's why the hunts would further isolate the three populations, conversationists argue.

"The Greater Yellowstone population in particular is too small to persist in the long-term without wolves coming in from other populations and breeding," said Jenny Harbine, an associate attorney with Earthjustice in Bozeman, Montana.

The tristate region had about a hundred breeding pairs and 1,600 individuals at the end of 2008. Biologists estimate 500 wolf pups were born this spring.

The current population is "right around the corner from legitimate wolf recovery," Harbine said. "But under the delisting, the states are free to aggressively reduce their wolf populations."

Ed Bangs, the wolf coordinator for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Helena, Montana, said the hunts are in line with management plans created when the wolves were delisted.

Those plans call for maintaining a wolf population of at least 45 breeding pairs and 450 individuals across the three states.

After the coming hunting season ends, the tristate wolf population will be greater than 1,500, Bangs noted.

"The [hunts] are not going to have any impact on wolf population overall, or population viability, or genetics, or dispersal, or anything else," he said.

The restoration of gray wolves to the Northern Rockies has been controversial ever since the predators migrated to northwest Montana from Canada in the early 1980s.

The debate heated up when 66 wolves were reintroduced to Idaho and Wyoming between 1995 and 1996, Bangs said.

Environmental and wildlife advocates argued that the gray wolf, a top predator, is vital to the healthy functioning of the Northern Rockies ecosystem.

But many ranchers were concerned the wolves would prey on their livestock, and hunters said wolves would kill too many deer and elk.

The pro-wolf argument prevailed, and now federal and state biologists have determined that wolves have reached sustainable levels and should be managed like any other wildlife species.

"Hunting is one of the conservation tools that lets local people participate in local wildlife management," Bangs said.

Harbine, the Earthjustice attorney, said her clients believe that wolf hunting could be an appropriate management tool—once the population is robust enough to support it.

"I think most people recognize that wolves are here to stay in the Northern Rockies and we simply have to learn the best way to live with them," she said.

"My clients would like to see wolves be allowed to be wolves and have a naturally sustainable population that's not constantly the subject of aggressive population reduction efforts."

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