Monday, June 17, 2019

PART 3: Have Wolves Recovered Like Bald Eagles Did?



In March of this year, when announcing the planned delisting of wolves in the lower 48 from Endangered Species Act protection, the US Fish and Wildlife Service stated, “The gray wolf joins the bald eagle…and 33 other species of animals and plants in U.S. states, territories and waters that have been brought back from the brink with the help of the ESA.” Comparing the incomplete recovery and limited protection of the wolf with the greater recovery and ongoing protection of the bald eagle is either a careless mistake or deliberately misleading.

The Killing of Bald Eagles
Our country may have had as many as 100,000 nesting bald eagles in 1782 when we adopted the bird as our national symbol. 

But, not everyone was a fan. Shortly after the bald eagle became our national symbol, Benjamin Franklin wrote, ”For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly.”

Franklin wasn’t alone. Many other Americans falsely accused the bird of preying regularly on chickens, lambs, and domestic livestock. Bald eagles were labeled a threat and the killing began, even though bald eagles mainly eat fish and carrion. This killing coupled with a loss of nesting habitat led to a decline in their numbers. By the early 1900s, bald eagles were flying toward extinction in the lower 48.

The Killing of Wolves
Wolves were once more abundant in the lower 48 than bald eagles. Some historians reckon that one to two million wolves roamed North America when colonists first arrived. Researchers estimate that gray wolves once inhabited 41 of the lower 48 states.

Colonists arriving from Europe brought wolf hatred with them and gave it a deadly American twist. Historian Jon T. Coleman found that colonists created wolf fantasies that were the opposite of reality. They pictured wolves preying on humans, but actually humans preyed on wolves. They described wolves surrounding humans, inducing panic with hideous howls. In reality, humans surrounded and panicked wolves. This savage wolf that only existed in minds fed with lies and fantasies prompted vicious treatment of real wolves—treatment far worse than that which bald eagles suffered.

Those lies and fantasies went on to be institutionalized in the early 1900s by the US Biological Survey—the first government wolf-killers—in order to generate funding for predator-eradication. They and their prodigy, Wildlife Services, almost cleared the lower 48 of wolves. By the time wolves were protected under the 1973 ESA, only 500 or so survived in remote northeastern Minnesota along with about 40 on Michigan’s Isle Royale.

Photo by Rick Lamplugh

The Protecting of Bald Eagles
The bald eagle first gained federal protection in 1940 under what later became the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. The bird later acquired additional protection under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. With ample protection, populations stabilized or increased. 

But bald eagles soon faced another threat: the widespread use of the pesticide DDT after World War II. DDT accumulated in bald eagles and caused them to lay eggs with weakened shells. As damaged eggs failed to hatch, their population plummeted. 

Concern for the bald eagle resulted in its protection in 1967 under the predecessor to today’s Endangered Species Act. A few years later, the eagle became one of the original species protected by the ESA.

With ESA protection and a ban by the Environmental Protection Agency on the general use of DDT, bald eagle populations rebounded and the bird was officially delisted from the ESA in 2007.

However, and this is a big however, bald eagles continue to be protected by the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Both federal laws prohibit molesting, disturbing, selling, or killing eagles or harming their nests or eggs.

The Protecting of Wolves
Gray wolves were protected under the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966 and the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969. They are now protected in parts of the lower 48 under the 1973 Endangered Species Act.

In 2011, wolves in Montana and Idaho, the eastern third of Washington and Oregon, and a small part of Utah lost endangered species protection via a congressional rider attached by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont) to a must-pass budget bill. Now delisted in Wyoming too, wolves are regularly killed in all of these states.

Photo by Ronnie Macdonald via CC BY 2.0

Compared to Bald Eagles, Wolves Are NOT Recovered or Protected
The USFWS once monitored the number of bald eagle breeding pairs in the lower 48. Their records show a steady increase from 487 in 1963 to 9,789 breeding pairs in 2006, the year before the delisting from the ESA. Simple math shows that number of breeding pairs represents a minimum population of at least 20,000 bald eagles at time of delisting.

Unlike that accurate monitoring of bald eagle numbers, the USFWS estimates that the “recovered” gray wolf population is now “more than 6,000” in the lower 48. That’s less than one-third the size of the bald eagle population at the time the bird was delisted.

According to the USFWS, at the time of delisting from the ESA, bald eagles could be found in every one of the lower 48 states and the District of Columbia. 

In March of this year, the USFWS wrote that the wolf is recovered and “roams free in nine states.” This is just a fraction of the 48 states the bald eagle could be found in when delisted or the 41 states wolves roamed in when colonists arrived.

The USFWS misleads us by favorably comparing the recovery of wolves with that of bald eagles. There is no comparison. According to USFWS statistics, recovery of wolves is far from complete when compared to the recovery of bald eagles.

Worse yet, if delisted from the ESA, there is no backup federal legislation for wolves as there is with bald eagles, which are still protected under two federal laws. With No ESA protection, hated and misunderstood wolves will certainly be disturbed, molested, and killed throughout the lower 48, minimizing their “recovery” even further.

You Can Help Keep Wolves Protected
The USFWS has extended the deadline for comments on their proposed nationwide delisting of gray wolves. You have until midnight on July 15 and can comment here. Thanks for taking the time to write an effective comment!

To read PART 1 and about how to write an effective comment.

To read PART 2: Dispersing Wolves Need ESA Protection

Award-winning Indie author Rick Lamplugh writes, speaks, and photographs to protect wildlife and wild lands. His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves and the award-winning sequel, Deep into Yellowstone, are available signed from Rick or unsigned on Amazon.


Rick's new book, The Wilds of Aging, is the prequel to In the Temple of Wolves and is available signed or on Amazon.



Collage photo of wolf CCO public domain via Pixabay

Monday, June 3, 2019

Keep Wolves Protected: Part 2. Dispersing Wolves Need the ESA



The US Fish and Wildlife Service wants to delist gray wolves in the lower 48. This is the second in a series of posts explaining why wolves should remain protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Dispersal is a fact of wolf life. Wolves naturally leave their birth packs to find a mate, available territory, or both. Oregon’s famous wolf OR-7 exemplified this with his journey of thousands of miles from Oregon to California and back to Oregon. He dispersed from eastern Oregon in September of 2011, and within weeks became the first wild wolf to set paw in western Oregon in sixty-five years. The route he travelled helped save his life. 

A few months before he dispersed, wolves in eastern Oregon had been removed from protection of the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) via a congressional rider attached by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont) to a must-pass budget bill. This was a political, not a scientific, delisting. Luckily for OR-7, wolves remained protected under the ESA in western Oregon and California. 

Passing through these protected lands, steadfast OR-7 eventually found a mate—another disperser—and by 2014 the two of them created the Rogue Pack. Since they are still in protected western Oregon and still a breeding pair, the story of dispersing doesn’t end. An offspring of the Rogue Pack dispersed into northern California and is now the alpha male of California’s only wolf pack. He and the alpha female—who dispersed from elsewhere in the Northern Rockies—have produced pups.  

These packs provide proof that protection under the ESA helps wolves succeed in their biological drive to find mates and new territory.

Though western Oregon still has a lot of suitable—and open—wolf territory, the Rogue Pack is one of only two packs in that half of the state. Both packs had pups in 2018 that survived to the end of the year. (Two Rogue Pack pups are pictured above.) There are also a few other wolves that are not in packs or breeding pairs, according to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife records. Eight years after OR-7 became the first wolf in western Oregon, around a dozen wolves roam the western half of the state and are still protected by the federal ESA. But if the US Fish and Wildlife Service delists wolves throughout the lower 48, these wolves will be under the much-contested Oregon Wolf Plan and subject to lethal control.

OR-16. Photo via ODFW

A dispersing wolf traveling in or to a state where it is not federally protected from hunting, trapping, or poaching faces deadly risk, since every state that manages wolves allows them to be killed in various ways. OR-7’s sister left Oregon and was killed by an Idaho trapper. OR-9 and OR-16 (pictured above) also died in Idaho—from gunshots. OR-18 ran that Idaho gauntlet only to walk into the gunsights of a Montana poacher. 

This killing of dispersers happens around the U.S., according to “Making Room for Wolf Recovery” a report from the Center for Biological Diversity. The report makes the case that dead dispersers confirm the need for continued federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The passage of the 1973 ESA enabled wolves—one by one and year by year—to reclaim a smidgen of the territory we had stolen from them with guns, traps, poison, and fire. Before the ESA, the only wild wolves left in the lower 48 were in remote areas in northern Minnesota and on Michigan’s Isle Royale. But with federal protection wolves successfully dispersed eastward to northern Wisconsin. Then Wisconsin wolves drifted further east to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, mingling there with wolves from Minnesota and Ontario. 

Under the protection of the ESA, descendants of wolves reintroduced into Yellowstone and Idaho dispersed into Montana, as did others from Canada. Wolves from British Columbia slipped across the border into Washington. Some of Idaho’s wolves swam the Snake River, adopted Oregon, and formed the pack into which OR-7 was born and from which he dispersed. 

When wolves from distinctly different packs find each other and produce offspring, they maintain the genetic health of the wolf population of the lower 48. As an extreme example of how limited genetic diversity can harm a wolf population, look at the wolves of Isle Royale. “The wolves on Isle Royale, which once numbered as many as 50, have been mostly isolated for generations, and the population has been overrun with spinal defects likely as a result of the inbreeding,” according to an article in Science. 

The ESA is essential to protect dispersers from hunting and trapping and help them find genetically different mates in new geographic areas. The dispersal of wolves from recovery areas to new states under federal protection has occurred 58 times over 30 years according to that Center for Biological Diversity report. The report also analyzed numerous research papers that found plenty of unused habitat suitable for dispersers—just as those dispersers to protected western Oregon found suitable habitat. The Center states that the current population of wolves in the lower 48 could almost double if federal protections were retained and efforts were made to restore wolves to some of the territory they once called home.


The Center’s map shows that the western wolf states—Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Washington, California, and Oregon—have room for more wolves. Still more exciting: there’s plenty of gray wolf habitat in other states including:

  • Maine
  • New Hampshire
  • Vermont
  • New York
  • Texas
  • New Mexico
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Utah

Even if wolves filled these new areas and doubled their population, they would still occupy only about 10 percent of their original habitat. Wolves once roamed in 41 of the lower 48 states but now survive in only 10. Wolves are by no means out of danger of being endangered.

Wolves are driven to disperse, and, unfortunately, some states are just as driven to kill wolves once wolf management is returned to those states upon the removal of ESA protection. 

It’s up to the US Fish and Wildlife Service to believe the science, doubt the anti-wolf lobby, and do the right thing: continue federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in the lower 48 so that dispersers can find mates, claim new territory, and maintain the population’s genetic health.

You Can Help Protect Dispersers

The USFWS has extended the deadline for comments on their proposed nationwide delisting of gray wolves. You have until midnight on July 15 and can comment here. Thanks for taking the time to write an effective comment!

To read PART 1 and about how to write an effective comment.


Award-winning Indie author Rick Lamplugh writes, speaks, and photographs to protect wildlife and wild lands. His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves and the award-winning sequel, Deep into Yellowstone, are available signed from Rick or unsigned on Amazon.



Rick's new book, The Wilds of Aging, is the prequel to In the Temple of Wolves and is available signed or on Amazon.



Photo of Oregon wolves by ODFW

Monday, May 20, 2019

Keep Wolves Protected: Part 1



This is the first in a series of posts explaining why wolves should remain protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. The US Fish and Wildlife Service wants to delist gray wolves nationwide. The agency states that wolves have met recovery goals and even calls gray wolf recovery “one of the greatest comebacks for an animal in U.S. conservation history.” But is it? 

Estimates of the number of wolves that once roamed North America go as high as two million. Whatever the actual number, after years of being unprotected from hunting, trapping, and poisoning, the USFWS now counts just over 6,000 wolves in the lower 48. And wolves occupy less than 10 percent of their historic range in the lower 48. This doesn’t sound like recovery to me. And it doesn’t sound like the agency has fulfilled its required mission of using the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to help this wide-ranging species spread to more territory. 

While the USFWS claims that this delisting will be made on the basis of science, that wasn’t the case in 2011, when wolves in Montana and Idaho, the eastern third of Washington and Oregon, and a small part of Utah lost endangered species protection via a congressional rider attached by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont) to a must-pass budget bill. That was pure politics. And the delisting being considered now also seems politically based.

The USFWS has extended the deadline for comments on their delisting. You have until midnight on July 15, 2019. I urge you to comment, but I also urge you to comment in the most effective way. 

The USFWS states “…submissions merely stating support for, or opposition to, the action under consideration without providing supporting information, although noted, will not meet the standard of best available scientific and commercial data. Section 4(b)(1)(A) of the Act directs that determinations as to whether any species is threatened or endangered must be made solely on the basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.”

In other words, if you simply write “Leave wolves alone!”, the USFWS will give your comment little weight. The agency can also downplay petitions or form letters. So I urge you to write in your own words a science-backed reason to keep wolves protected. You don’t have to be a scientist to do this, and I know that many wolf advocates have the motivation to write very effective comments. 

This post provides an introductory list of reasons—good starting points for your science-based comments. Ample supplemental information can be found online from other reputable sources. Subsequent posts in this series will dig deeper into the science behind keeping wolves protected and their population growing instead of unprotected with their population stagnant or declining.

Reasons to Keep Wolves Protected and Their Population Growing

Wolves need connections between territories in order to stay genetically healthy. The USFWS focused gray wolf recovery in three regions in the lower 48. So wolves live in isolated regions and as human development continues, wolves’ isolation will increase. Unprotected wolves dispersing across invisible state lines in search of mates from unrelated packs will do so at the risk of death. Nationwide ESA protection gives wolves a chance to move across the lower 48 in search of mates, territory, and genetic health.

Wolves are a keystone species and crucial to healthy ecosystems. The trophic cascade theory explains how wolves benefit ecosystems. Many reputable scientists support the theory, and Yellowstone National Park provides a great example. The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone changed the feeding behavior and movement of elk. This left more willows along streams. More willows attracted more beavers that built more dams. More dams created more wetlands that benefitted songbirds and other species.

Wolf kills benefit many other animals. In Yellowstone, for example, ravens, magpies, bald eagles, golden eagles, coyotes, foxes, grizzly bears, and hundreds of species of beetle dine on the remains of wolf kills. Animals killed by wolves benefit far more species than do animals killed by human hunters.

Wolf kills benefit the land. A 2009 study in Michigan’s Isle Royale National Park found that wolf-killed elk carcasses increased levels of nitrogen and other nutrients in the soil.

Wolves may help fight chronic wasting disease. Chronic wasting disease is spreading throughout the West. There is no cure for CWD. But wolves may help reduce its spread by taking out sick animals and reducing the chance of CWD transfer to other animals.

Wolf-related tourism provides economic benefits. When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park and Idaho in 1995, one study estimated that increased visitation due to wolf recovery would result in additional, annual expenditures of $23 million across Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. Fourteen years later, a follow-up study found that those reintroduced wolves brought, on average, an additional $35 million annually in tourism expenditures for those states. As these expenditures rippled through the regional economy, they resulted in an estimated total increase in output of about $70 million annually.

Where to comment

The USFWS has extended the deadline for comments on their proposed nationwide delisting of gray wolves. You have until midnight on July 15 and can comment here. Thanks for taking the time to write an effective comment!

Award-winning Indie author Rick Lamplugh writes, speaks, and photographs to protect wildlife and wild lands. His bestselling In the Temple of Wolves and the award-winning sequel, Deep into Yellowstone, are available signed from Rick or unsigned on Amazon.

To read Part 2



Rick's new book, The Wilds of Aging, is the prequel to In the Temple of Wolves and is available signed or on Amazon.



Photo of Yellowstone wolf by Rick Lamplugh