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Saving wolves to kill them

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In late 2007 or early 2008, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) plans to remove gray wolves from the Endangered Species list. As a precursor to the welcome-back party, the federal agency recently proposed a plan that would ease restrictions on the killing of wolves before they are delisted.

The proposed change would amend a 2005 rule regulating the killing of gray wolves that impact deer and elk populations, as determined by native tribes or states. That rule said that a tribe or state could intervene and kill wolves only if they had sufficient proof that herd population declines were “primarily caused by wolf predation.”

The change would allow killing if it is determined that wolves are “one of the major causes” of ungulate populations not meeting state goals.

Minette Glaser, a representative for Defenders of Wildlife, says the change is irresponsible.

“It doesn’t make sense to kill something for doing what it does, which is eat elk,” Glaser says. “We think this could hold up the delisting process.”

Edward Bangs, Western Gray Wolf Coordinator for the FWS office in Helena, says he understands killing wolves is a bad P.R. move for the agency, but says it’s necessary because the 2005 rule had unintended consequences.

“By and large, every elk herd in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming is above or at ideal population,” he says. Still, he says, several herds in Idaho do not meet that state’s population goals, and Idaho claims wolves are a contributing factor.

The rule change proposal itself, however, states: “Wolf predation is unlikely to impact ungulate population trends unless other contributing factors are in operation, such as habitat quality and quantity.”

Bangs says killing wolves would have little impact on the stability of wolf populations, and that delisting will likely move forward as planned.

Public comments on the proposed rule change ended Aug. 6, but Bangs says public comment will be reopened when FWS releases its environmental assessment on the impact of the rule change later this month.

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