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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Wolves Under Attack

I read in the paper recently that yet another highly endangered Mexican gray wolf was found shot to death in western New Mexico. This is the third member of the Hawk's Nest pack to have died recently under 'suspicious' circumstances. Yeah, you could say the circumstances were suspicious, as wolves aren't known for engaging in gun fights.

There are no more than 50 of these beautiful animals left in New Mexico. Fifty! And yet some really brave people, armed with high-powered rifles, apparently feel threatened by these shy animals. Are the wolves killed for sport, or because some misguided rancher sees them as a threat to his cattle? Or maybe some mother fears that a wolf is going to eat her kids as they wait for the school bus. Don't laugh. I actually read that comment in an on-line discussion about wolves recently.

Wolves, bears and other apex predators continue to be executed simply for being wolves, bears and apex predators. Is there no place on this vast planet for wildlife to be left alone, to live their lives in peace, to simply 'be'? Can we not leave room in the wild for nature's creatures to live as they are meant to live?

More bad news was announced May 4, when the Obama administration moved to lift Endangered Species Act protections for 5,500 gray wolves in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes, citing the 'rapid expansion' of the wolves' territory over the last two decades.

Public hunts for hundreds of wolves already are planned this fall in Idaho and Montana. It seems those who enjoy slaughtering animals just can't wait to get started.

A rider to the recently enacted 2011 federal budget "puts gray wolves back on the chopping block-- another attempt to remove Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in Idaho, Montana, Utah, and potentially Oregon and Washington," according to the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance.

Sadly, Interior Department officials soon announced that the most suitable wolf habitat already was occupied. No further introductions of the species are planned. Many biologists say wolves recovered to sustainable levels a decade ago in some parts of the lower 48 states. But it took a rider to the federal budget bill -- inserted by Western lawmakers -- to overcome years of lawsuits and lift protections for 1,300 wolves in the Northern Rockies.

According to an Associated Press article, "The rider barred any courtroom challenges and marked the first time Congress has removed an animal listed under the Endangered Species Act." Protections for the Rockies wolves were to be lifted effective with an imminent notice in the Federal Register.

"About 4,200 wolves listed as threatened in the western Great Lakes also are slated to lose protections. That could happen by the end of this year, following the review of public comments received on the proposal over the next two months," the article continued.

Ken Salazar, secretary of the Interior Department, put his own spin on the ruling, stating that "From a biological perspective, gray wolves have recovered." Right, they recovered from near extinction, so let's go out and shoot them. There obviously are too many wolves running around eating little kids, right? When was the last verifiable wolf attack on humans? When was the last verifiable human attack on a wolf? Think about it.

Idaho officials want to reduce their state's wolf population -- currently estimated at more than 700 -- to about 500 animals. Ranchers would like to see wolf populations reduced even more, "to eliminate attacks on cattle" according to one. I'm sure ranchers would like to reduce the state's wolf population to zero.

Montana wildlife officials have proposed a public hunt for up to 220 wolves this fall, out of an estimated 566 animals. No hunts are planned immediately for small populations of wolves in Oregon, Washington and Utah.

Idaho state Rep. Judy Boyle, who sponsored a bill giving Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter the authority to declare a wolf disaster emergency, said hunting alone won't be enough to reduce the number of wolves to levels in which they aren't a threat to livestock or wildlife. Idaho will continue to ask federal wildlife agents to take out 'problem' packs, including in north-central Idaho's Lolo area, where the state wants to kill dozens of wolves to help restore elk herds that have been hurt by predators and poor habitat, she said. OK, so they want to increase elk herds so hunters can kill them? That makes a lot of sense, doesn't it? And unlike hunters, who go for the biggest elk or deer, wolves prey on the oldest, sickest or injured prey.

The announcement left the fate of about 340 wolves in Wyoming unresolved. Wyoming was carved out of attempts to restore state control over wolves because of a state law that would allow the animals to be shot on sight in most of the state.

Gray wolves also are coming off the endangered species list in the eastern states, but officials said that is because emerging science indicates that another predator, the Eastern wolf, is the region's native wolf species.

Do we humans, a supposedly 'superior' species, have to eliminate every species that we don't like, every species that we think is 'inconvenient' or in competition with us? We build houses in their territory and destroy their habitat and food sources, then we complain and have the animals killed if they bother us. We cut down forests and plant lawns and flowers, then we demand that offending deer that dare to eat our rose bushes be removed. Some idiots camp in a posted no-camping area in known bear country with their little dogs; they store food in their tent. A bear is attracted to the smell of the food and attacks the people as they sleep as it goes after the food. The people are injured; one dog is killed; the other dog runs off. The bear, simply doing what bears do (search for food), is tracked down and killed. This happened last year in New Mexico, near Albuquerque.

I feel very hopeless about the future of wildlife in our world. It seems that if an animal has no monetary value to humans, people want it eliminated. 

In my opinion, animals DO have value. They have intrinsic, not necessarily financial, value. They have important roles in the ecosystem. Predators help keep prey populations in check. They help maintain balance and healthy prey populations. They have natural beauty. Look at this picture of Hokshila, a timber wolf rescued from being drowned in a river and now living at a wolf sanctuary in New Mexico. Does this beautiful animal not deserve a chance at life?

Can we not allow the wild animals enough space to live and exist, or will we continue to insist on eliminating every species that doesn't have a large financial benefit to some special interest group? 

These latest developments mean a death sentence for hundreds of wolves in Montana and Idaho. Can the wolves of New Mexico and Arizona be far behind?