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A howling shame

That didn’t take long. One month after the gray wolves of the northern Rockies were expelled from the endangered species list, at least 35 have been shot and killed. That’s nearly twice the number killed in the first four months of last year, when shooting the wolves was allowed almost solely to protect livestock.

The reintroduction of the wolves 13 years ago was one of the big success stories of the Endangered Species Act. Their numbers quickly climbed, and were at about 1,500 when they were delisted on March 28, which in effect handed control of their fates to the states of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

The gray wolf of the northern Rockies was ready for delisting. The population exceeded all goals for the program, and species should not be kept on a lifeline forever, if at all possible. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was remiss in this case, primarily because it failed to ensure that state regulations for the wolves would protect them. Obviously, with more than 2% of the population killed within a month, existing state management plans are inadequate.

Some residents of the three states -- ranchers, hunters and people who just don’t like wolves -- have been waiting for this chance. Protecting livestock is one thing, but hunters have been complaining that the wolves keep down the population of elk, which they would like to hunt themselves. Yet part of the reasoning for reintroducing the wolf was to restore the natural balance in which animal predators kept the populations of elk and deer in check.

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The federal government will not intervene again on the wolves’ behalf until their numbers fall as low as 300. Taxpayers will then bear the burden of re-listing the wolves. That’s partly why environmentalists have gone to court over the delisting.

The Fish and Wildlife Service should re-list the wolves until it receives more reasonable management plans from the states involved, and should demand that the population fall no lower than 1,000. The wolves weren’t reintroduced to provide target practice for hunters.


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