It's disappointing that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has removed protection for the gray wolf in the Northern Rocky Mountain states. We were hoping for better from the Obama administration.
Wolves will remain on the endangered list in Wyoming, where hunters were set to start annihilating them after delisting last year. But they will be vulnerable to wolf haters in Idaho, Montana and parts of Utah, Washington and Oregon.
Wyoming refused to adopt any limits on wolf killing. And Idaho hunters are nearly as determined to exterminate them. An anti-wolf coalition in Idaho tried to put a wolf-eradication initiative on the ballot after a judge restored endangered species protection.
Utah wildlife managers adopted a management plan to go into effect after the wolves were delisted. The plan covers an area east of I-84 and I-15 and north of I-80 that was included in the wolf-recovery area. Wolves remain under federal protection in other areas of the state.
Despite the wolves' rapid resurgence under federal protection, they can't survive without it.
Salazar says the predators have "bounced back" since they were listed as endangered in 1974, but their comeback was not as easy as he makes it sound. They existed only in Yellowstone National Park, having been hunted to extinction in unprotected areas early in the 20th century. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reintroduction program brought them back, beginning in 1995.
But without federal protection, wolves will again fall prey to the only predator nasty enough to hunt them only for fun. Last March, when delisting took effect in Idaho, Montana and parts of Oregon and Washington, public hunts were quickly sanctioned. By the time a judge halted the killing with a temporary restraining order in May, 40 wolves, 10 percent of the population, had been killed. All affected states relaxed rules for killing wolves that harm livestock. Idaho and Montana will probably allow trophy hunts again this fall.
Only two wolves have wandered into Utah since the reintroduction. One died in a trap; the other was returned to Yellowstone. To our credit, Utah has no plan -- yet -- to sponsor a trophy hunt. Killing wolves for sport should be illegal unless they prey on sheep or cattle.
Hunters say wolves kill too many elk, but the wolves feed on the weak and old, improving the herd, while humans take the biggest, strongest animals.
Wolves are a vital part of a healthy ecosystem and should be allowed to thrive.
This editorial first appreared in the Salt Lake Tribune on March 12, 2009