In historic move on Friday, the US Fish and Wildlife service removed endangered species status protection from gray wolves in five US rocky mountain states. Wolf hunts are already planned in Montana and Idaho, where the animals are blamed for attacking livestock, and a decline in elk numbers.
''We needed to figure out a way to manage these critters just like we manage other wildlife, and this is the way to do it,'' Sen. Jon Tester said in an interview with The Associated Press. ''If you take a look at impacts wolves have had on domestic livestock, on our big game, it is not deniable that it has been extensive.''
The legislation was waved through as a rider to the Obama budget bill, and specifically prevents any further appeals to federal courts who have been blocking proposals to reintroduce hunting of the predators. Gray and red wolves were one of the first beneficiaries under the 1973 Endangered Species Act (ESA). Since then, under the protection of the ESA, wolves have re-established themselves in areas where they had become extinct in the lower 48 states, and were also successfully but controversially reintroduced to Yellowstone National park and Idaho from 1995.
Wolves have been directly and indirectly implicated in livestock kills in Idaho and Montana, but while farmers and ranchers have been compensated for the loss of their animals much ill feeling still exists towards the iconic canids. The impact of the reintroduction of top predators has been particularly dramatic in Yellowstone, where elk numbers have halved; and beaver and red fox numbers have recovered due to the wolves displacing coyotes. Elk population reduction has had a significant effect on the landscape as aspen and willow groves recover from decades of overgrazing.
The use of Congress to intervene in the workings of the ESA makes many conservationists extremely uneasy, as until now the decision whether to de-list any species was made purely on the basis of scientific advice as to numbers, rather than by politicians with short term vested interests pandering to vocal local political pressure groups.