Guest column: Follow the science, the law regarding wolves

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The successful recovery of the gray wolf in Idaho and Montana has been a significant achievement in species conservation. In less than 10 years, biological recovery targets for the gray wolf have not only been met, but exceeded. Unfortunately, wolf radiation has been mired in politics rather than informed by science. Last month, Interior Dry. Deb Haaland is the author of an op-ed, devoid of facts but filled with alarmist rhetoric, perpetuating the false narrative that wildlife management policies in Idaho and Montana are driving gray wolves to extinction. Moreover, the Secretary ignored both the spirit and the procedure of the Endangered Species Act by explicitly threatening emergency listing. The secretary’s editorial demands a response.

Gray wolves were brought to the Northern Rockies in 1995, and by the mid-2000s their rapid population growth had far exceeded expectations. With the gray wolf fully recovered, Idaho and Montana regained state wildlife management authority in 2011. However, three scenarios are written into the states’ post-recovery plans outlining conditions that could lead to a review of the status of the species:

One: If wolf populations in the Northern Rockies Management Unit fall below 100 wolves for a year. Both states have greatly exceeded that number, with about 1,177 wolves in Montana and 1,543 in Idaho last year.

Two: if wolf populations in either state fall below 150 wolves for three consecutive years. Gray wolf populations have consistently remained above 1,000 wolves for more than ten consecutive years in Montana. Likewise, Idaho’s wolf populations have been well above the target number for more than 20 years, staying above 1,500 for the past three consecutive years.

Three: If a state law or management objective makes changes that significantly increase the threat to the wolf population. Idaho expanded hunting licenses in 2021, not to endanger wolf populations but to reduce their growing threat to the ecosystem. The Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2009 delisting rule warned that a Northern Rockies population of more than 1,500 wolves, which Idaho alone currently exceeds, would lead to possible habitat degradation.

Like Idaho, Montana passed new hunting regulations this year. This plan was adjustable – allowing the Commission to react to changing mid-season conditions – and maintained science-based quotas, which even if fully met, ensured that wolf populations were maintained near five times higher than the recovery threshold. The Montana wolf season ended last week and the total harvest was comparable to previous seasons and actually lower than the previous four years.

The secretary wrote that “we need to find solutions that allow wolves to flourish.” We agree and are proud that Idaho and Montana have managed to do just that. If the gray wolf does not meet the criteria for a status review, it certainly does not meet the criteria for an emergency listing. Those pushing for such action rely on emotional appeals, red herrings and scare tactics – not science or law.

If the secretary is serious about following the science and the law and acknowledging “decades of hard work by the states,” she must promote, rather than denigrate, the state’s management authority. She must recognize that Idaho and Montana have demonstrated a relevant ability to maintain a healthy wolf population for more than a decade. This is the true hallmark of success for species recovery, and we cannot afford Sec. Haaland to undermine that legacy for political and partisan purposes.

Steve Daines is a Republican Senator representing Montana and Jim Risch is a Republican Senator representing Idaho.

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