First, the bad news.
After a summer of legal battles over the fate of wolves near Yellowstone, a federal judge has recently ruled that a large number of wolves in Idaho and Montana may be legally killed by hunters. The slaughter has already begun; four wolves have been shot in Idaho and one in Montana. However, Defenders of Wildlife is hopeful that their legal challenge to the Interior Department’s delisting of wolves in Idaho and Montana will ultimately prevail.
But long-time conservationist Mike Medberry has written a very thought-provoking op-ed piece for High Country News. He writes: “The groups’ lawsuit argues that the wolves have not recovered yet. That is simply disingenuous, as the goal has clearly been met. Conservationists need to be honest about their goals. If they insist on supporting shifting numbers, they may find that they represent shifting support. More to the point, however, is their refusal to accept that this victory for wolves endangers the Endangered Species Act, which protects all endangered species.”
Among the comments, one reminds us of an important part of the judge’s decision: “This column completely leaves out the element of recovery that the Fish & Wildlife Service set out for wolves in 1994 and a federal judge ruled it had not met in 2008: ‘genetic exchange between subpopulations.’” As has been clear since reintroduction of wolves was first proposed, this is a complex issue, and much more effort and time will be required before all its aspects are resolved.
Now, the good news.
Yesterday (9/21/09) a federal judge in Montana ruled that Endangered Species Act protections must be returned to Greater Yellowstone’s grizzly bears. According to the Defenders of Wildlife Web site, the judge agreed that, in delisting the bears in 2007, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not “take into consideration the continued decline of the whitebark pine, a critical grizzly food source threatened by pine beetles, blister rust and climate change.”
2. Snowmobiles are to be limited to 318 per day for the next two winter seasons, more than the daily average entering the park in the past two winters, but cutting by more than half the 720 authorized to enter by the previous decision. Meanwhile, 78 snowcoaches holding 10 or 12 people will be allowed to enter.
3. This year, 3300 bison are living in Y.N.P., according to a recent count. This is a reasonable number to sustain the herd. Now, if only the agencies which have been hazing and killing the animals in the winter will develop and implement a more reasonable policy!
4. For the year, more than 2.6 million people have visited Yellowstone, making the first eight months of 2009 the busiest January through August in the park’s history (as reported in USA Today, 9/15/09).
5. Not news to anyone interested in Yellowstone but good news for all our national parks is the attention paid by Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, who have produced twelve hours of what promises to be fascinating public TV watching in their series on the parks—including some footage of all 58 of them—beginning on Wednesday, September 27, nationwide.