Meet Service Director Dan Ashe.
In 2011 and 2012, we concluded that gray wolves were no longer in danger of extinction in the Northern Rocky Mountains and removed them from the Endangered Species List. At that point we handed the management reins over to the states, and both we and they have taken a lot of heat ever since. That is why I was so happy to see that in 2013 the Northern Rocky Mountain wolf population held steady.
As of December 31, there were at least 78 breeding pairs and 1,691 wolves across the Northern Rocky Mountain area. That is a modest decline in pairs from 2012 and a very slight decline in total numbers, but when you consider the margin of error in trying to survey all wolves across this vast area, the wolf population hasn’t really changed a bit. The numbers are news to celebrate, especially with minimum management targets at the much-lower 45 breeding pairs and 450 wolves.
The numbers come out of our annual monitoring program that we undertake with the Rocky Mountain states, tribes and other partners to ensure that the total wolf population does not fall to dangerous levels. If that were to happen, we could re-list the gray wolf under the Endangered Species Act and re-assume responsibility for wolf management. I am confident that won’t be needed. It is in the best interest of the states, communities, stakeholders and the Service to maintain a recovered wolf population.
|More information on the wolf recovery|
Wolf management is, I can tell you, a tough job. Sometimes, there seems little chance of finding common ground between those who want to protect every wolf at all costs and those who have never supported any form of recovery effort. Management is almost guaranteed to annoy someone.
But our partners persevered. Wyoming, Idaho and Montana have sought that very fine line between conservation of wolves and protection of human needs. They approved actions that often seemed unpopular with one group or another. And the numbers suggest they knew – and continue to know – exactly what they are doing.
Our now-retired wolf recovery coordinator, Ed Bangs, told me shortly after the 1995 reintroduction, “Dan, these animals are hard-wired to breed. As long as we don’t start persecuting them again, they’ll do remarkably well.”
With the latest numbers, we see that wolves across the Northern Rocky Mountains are doing, as Ed forecast: “remarkably well.” I hope, the numbers also make clear that the states are managing, not “persecuting,” wolves.
While we will never please everyone where wolves are concerned, we can continue to ensure, with the professional management of our state partners, that a viable wolf population endures in the Rocky Mountains.