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Delisting of wolves raises hackles

With wolves’ numbers rising, federal government – and many in West – want to take them off endangered species list. Environmentalists warn that it’s too soon.

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“It’s amazing the pockets of fear and irrationality that still pervade the wolf debate,” she says. “Plus, the whole symbolic weight that wolves carry because they came in with the federal government – and not just that, but the Clinton administration.”

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In many parts of the rural West, the federal government controls much of the landscape (64 percent of Idaho), and Uncle Sam is seen as big brother imposing an environmentalist view.

“It should be the people in Idaho deciding whether we have wolves or not,” says Rex Rammell, a veterinarian, former elk rancher, and independent candidate for the US Senate seat being vacated by Larry Craig (R).

A native Idahoan and lifelong hunter who lives in Rexburg, Idaho, Dr. Rammell contradicts official reports in asserting that elk and moose herds in many places have dropped substantially due to wolves. He also takes a strict state-rights position: “All of these western states should have the land turned over to them.”

Under state plans, some 500 wolves could be legally killed to reduce the population to around 1,000 in the region. But conservationists fear those plans in fact could reduce the total number to 300: That is, 100 in each of the three states (the minimum required under the federal recovery plan). And some politicians are eager to do just that.

“I’m prepared to bid for that first ticket to shoot a wolf myself,” said Idaho Gov. Butch Otter (R). On the day of the delisting, Governor Otter signed a new law allowing people to kill wolves without a permit whenever the animals are thought to be annoying, disturbing, or “worrying” livestock or other domestic animals.

Following delisting, Wyoming implemented a “kill on sight” predator law covering nearly 90 percent of the state outside of Yellowstone.

Antiwolf feeling is a matter of degree. Only the most radical wolf opponents want to eradicate them, and many ranchers have found ways to live with them. A proposed ballot measure to get rid of all wolves in Idaho failed to get enough signatures recently. Still, 35,000 people did sign the petition.

Tony Mayer, head of Save Our Elk in Twin Falls, Idaho, says wolves should be managed to the level envisioned in the ESA listing – 100 to 150 in Idaho instead of the 750 officially there now. But he adds that that could not be accomplished by sport hunting alone, and he worries that “pro-wolfers have hijacked the ESA.”

“We think wolves have a place in the wilderness,” he says, citing evidence that there actually are 1,000 wolves in Idaho now with annual population growth rates of 30 percent. “But we can’t sit by and see the wolf population explode to the detriment of other wildlife,” he concludes.

A dozen environmental groups recent­­ly sued to reverse the federal delisting on the grounds that the Fish and Wildlife Service’s approval of state management schemes “permits a level of wolf killing that radically diminishes the prospects for a functional northern Rockies metapopulation.” (A group of separated wolf packs that may interact is a metapopulation.)