A U.S. District Court judge in Oregon on Tuesday blocked the Bush administration’s effort to remove wolves from endangered-species protections in the lower 48 states.
That means that anyone shooting a wolf that wanders into Colorado would face a $100,000 fine.
There had not been wolves in Colorado for more than 60 years until one wandered into the state from Wyoming and was hit and killed on Interstate 70 last June. It is considered only a matter of time before wolves are re-established here.
U.S. District Judge Robert E. Jones said the federal policy was not based on science or law and was merely an attempt to remove the wolf from the Endangered Species List as quickly as possible.
The wolf may turn into one of the success stories of the ESA yet. You’ll recall the distinction I drew between species driven extinct by hunting and those driven extinct through habitat loss. Wolves fall in a grey area on that. They were hunted extensively for many years. The feds poisoned them, and states had bounties. The only places in the lower 48 where they survived were in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. Newmark (1995) (JSTOR PDF, Blackwell abstract) showed that wolves were the only large mammal to disappear from Grand Teton-Yellowstone (caribou were all that Glacier was missing. The USGS says that Glacier only had occasional dispersers.) The suggestion was that suitable protected habitat was too fragmented for the wolves to persist. Outside of protected areas, they were hunted.
The successful reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone suggests that conditions may be different. With less landowner conflict and less hunting, there may be an adequate patchwork for wolves to survive in. They are now dispersing south as far as Colorado, which means Rocky Mountain may become re-colonized. Did wolves go extinct because of hunting or because of habitat loss? Maybe a little of each.
They’re back now. Give them time, and they won’t need the same level of protection from hunting. But they will still need lots of land to hunt in. And that means lots of protected habitat, almost none of it in active use at any one time.
“ Killing Floor ” by Howlin Wolf from the album Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: A Musical Journey (2003, 2:53).