This was inspired by =StringOfLights Journal. Along with other wildlifers as well.
Sorry for the length. I was checking the primary literature and doing some research and came across some interesting stuff. Had to get it all down. I hope that this will help strengthen some arguments for the pro wolf side. I am trying to educate, that is my goal.
Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf Recovery. The History and Possible consequences of delisting
In 1995 and 1996 the initial stages of the Gray Wolf reintroduction began. This was the culmination of years of planning on the USFWS's part. To gain acceptance of their reintroduction plan the USFWS proposed that a total of 300 individuals, 100 in each of the three participating states (Idaho, Montana and Wyoming) as a target for the reintroduction. These numbers were not based on any scientific research or data. They were the opinions of the people in charge during the planning stages, and what they felt would be an acceptable level. The reintroduction was an extremely unpopular idea, especially in Idaho, in 2001 the Idaho governor emphatically stated that he would kill the first wolf when the species was delisted, the beginning of the second eradication of the species in his state.
A 2001 and 2005 census estimated the population to be at 550 individuals and 1300 individuals respectively. In 2008 the USFWS declares that the population has reached and far exceeded the proposed numbers of 300 individuals. The only data that the USFWS recovered was the basic demographics, nothing on the genetic connectivity or health of the population. This prompted the Bush administration to delist the species in 2008. In July 2008 the US District Court in Montana reinstated the ESA listing (Defenders of Wildlife v. Hall) stressing that the delisting was declared illegal under 1994 recovery plans (genetic connectivity between the populations, the Yellowstone population had limited dispersal from the other two.). The federal court allowed the USFWS to reevaluate the plan. The USFWS proceeded to change the recovery plan to 450 individuals and proposed the new iteration on 14 January 2009. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar declared that the recovery goal was met, and without seeking public opinion or scientific inquiry continued to delist the species. On 4 May 2009 the delisiting became effective.
Since the ESA became law there have been 9 species that have been declared endangered then delisted, brown pelican, gray whale, arctic peregrine falcon, American peregrine falcon, Aleutian Canada goose, Columbian white tailed deer, grizzly bear, bald eagle Virginia flying squirrel and the gray wolf. As part of the delistment process all of these species, except the gray wolf, meet one of two criteria: a) 1000 or more breeding pairs b) recolonization of the majority of it's historic range. 6 of 9 of these species met both of these. The gray wolf proves a definite exclusion to all other delistments undertaken by the USFWS. The Gray Wolf has recolonized only 6% of it's historic range, and only has 83 breeding pairs. This is a far cry from the success of the other delistments, e.g. the brown pelican, 17,000 breeding pairs and 100% of its range, the bald eagle 10,000 breeding pairs and 100% of it's range, or even the grizzly bear 500 individuals (no skewed Ne, which I'll describe later) and 68% of it's historic range, the remaining 32% of that is likely California and Oregon where grizzlies haven't been since the early 1900's.
The historic range of Canis lupus in North America extends from Alaska to Central Mexico, and from the Sierras to Appalachia. In the Lower 48 the population has been diminished to a small population of the Mexican wolf (Canis lupus baileyi) in New Mexico or Arizona and the 3 populations in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming (the populations in Idaho and Montana are relatively well connected, while the one in Yellowstone is not well connected, so almost 2 populations).
Some of the heaviest opposition has come from ranchers and hunters, which are worried about livestock depredation and increased pressure on game animals. In 2007 Stronena surveyed ranchers and revealed that equal numbers of ranchers are worried about brucellosis transmissions from wild elk as they are about livestock depredation from wolf populations.
This revelation is certainly a lack wildlife ecology education on the part of the USFWS and state agencies. In 2008 biologists determined that wolves were responsible for 214 cattle deaths, 355 sheep deaths, 28 goat deaths, 21 llama deaths, 10 horse deaths and 14 dog deaths. Van Camp in 2003 found that 3% of all livestock losses were due to all native predators combined. He also found that in 2002 the 108 wolves in Montana were responsible for .000008% of total livestock losses. In 2001 total livestock losses by predators numbered 14,200. Wolves were responsible for .005% of those deaths (83 total), 60% were by coyotes and 9% by dogs.
In 2004 Francis reported that coyotes and domestic dogs cause far more livestock depredation than do wolves when they co-occur. Berger 2008 and Fuller &Keith 1981 state that wolves help to suppress coyote populations and increase the amount carrion incorporated into a coyote's diet. This ecological dynamic could actually reduce the total number of livestock depredation rather than increase it.
The concern of the hunters towards the ungulate populations is most certainly due to the lack of ecology education. Wolves account for roughly 10% of elk deaths. The National Academy of Science concluded that wolf populations could only effect adult prey populations of they were the dominant predator at all life stages of the prey. Wolves only account for 17% of elk calf mortality, where as bears account for 58%. In Idaho Elk harvest rates were higher in 2005 than they were before the reintroduction occurred. Some of the management units in Idaho have had to institute cow (female elk) hunts to effectively reduce populations that are near the carrying capacity of the habitat. Elk mortality due to wolves is largely compensatory to other natural causes of death. Especially the fact that wolves generally target diseased or elderly prey individuals, which strongly plays in the favor of the ranchers who fear brucellosis. When wolves target diseased elk, that elk is less likely to make it's way to a ranch to infect livestock.
A 2008 USFWS interagency report states that Idaho has a target population of 500 individual, Montana 400 individuals and Wyoming 300 individuals. The report did not specify the meaning of "target". We can assume that the delistment will cause an increased harvest rate; all populations are currently above these numbers. Idaho, who was extremely against the listing in the first place, has a harvest rate that will reduce the population to the legal limit, 150 individuals and 15 packs, in 3 years. If the population drops below 150 individuals the species will be relisted under the ESA.
Bergstrom 2008 ran a rudimentary population viability analysis with a starting population of 1500 individuals, a conservative harvest rate without regards to sex or age and incorporated standard wolf life history traits (sex ratio, litter number
etc) 100% of the 10,000 simulations resulted in a decline to extirpation within 10 years. This proves to be even more troubling when we consider the sex ratio and effective population size of gray wolves. The common life history trait is that there is 1 breeding pair per pack. The alpha male and female. This means that the effective population size (Ne) is not the actual population size, but the number of individuals actually breeding in the population. The 1500 estimate for total population size comes to about 83 breeding pairs in the entire range. If the number is ever reduced to the legal limit of 450 individuals the effective population size will be around 22 individuals. A reduction like this would result in a considerable bottleneck. Would a target population size of 1200 individuals be enough for the population to survive stochastic events or leave connectivity relatively intact?
Michael Soule, the uncontested father of conservation biology, has proposed a theory of an ecologically effective population size, and trophic cascades of keystone species. The reintroduction of wolves in the Yellowstone ecosystem has caused an overall improvement in the health of the ecosystem. Riparian habitat and aspen forests have been restored because of the introduction of wolves. Because these two habitats have improved songbird assemblages have increased as well. Wilmers and Getz go as far as saying that wolves act as a slight buffer against climate change. Soule describes that the ecologically effective density of wolves is 16 wolves per 1000km^2. At this density the wolf population has the largest positive effect on the habitat. Improved habitat means better habitat for every organism that uses it, even ungulate populations. The reintroduction area is 277,377 km^2, which means that the area can effectively, and safely, contain a metapopulation of 17,000 individuals. A population size this large will insure long-term survival of the species in North America. A population this large would be able to be hunted at considerable levels as well, thus pleasing hunters, and raising money for the states. A population this large would also guard against the species ever having to be relisted.
This is an optimistic outlook of the situation. Most are rather grim and pessimistic because of the history of hostility local communities have held towards wolves. Due to a lag in most biological systems, hunting down to the legal limit may actually cause extirpation of the population. Considering the US taxpayer and non profit organization's (NPO's) have invested 30 million dollars into the reintroduction of the Gray Wolf it is of great economic importance to prevent the relisting of this species.
JB Bergstrom et al. 2009. The Northern Rocky Mountain Gray Wolf is not Yet Recovered. Bioscience 59(11):991-1001
BV Weckworth et al. 2010. Phylogeography of wolves in PNW. Journal of Mammalogy 91(2):363-375
R Van Camp. 2003. Lethal Controls: The Fate of Wolves in the Northern Rockies. Alliance for the Wild Rockies
Government Commities, EIS, Interagency Reports. I can forward upon request.
ME Soule. 2005. Strongly Interacting Species: consevation, management and ethics. Bioscience 55:168-176