Project Wolf takes on Wyoming: Aims to get state to keep gray wolves on endangered species list

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Darlene Kobobel is passionate about wolves. As the owner of the Colorado Wolf and Wildlife Center in Divide, she has made a career out of rescuing wolves, wolf-dog hybrids and even a few coyotes, coy-dogs and fox. Now she and her nonprofit organization, whose mission is preservation, education and conservation, have set their sights on another project. Project Wolf is an answer to Wyoming’s desire to remove the gray wolf from the endangered species list. Delisting wolves would allow hunters and wildlife services to shoot or trap the animals to the point where only 10 breeding pairs would exist outside of Yellowstone National Park. Other northern and Great Lakes states have already delisted wolves and are allowing hunters to decimate wolf populations. “This isn’t wolf management,” Kobobel said. “This is slaughter. If the federal government allows Wyoming to delist its wolves, anyone will be able to shoot them on sight in about 90 percent of the state and they’ll be able to lure Yellowstone wolves out of the park to kill them too.” The federal governments final decision to approved Wyoming’s delisting of the gray wolf came down on Aug. 31. Several environmental groups have already made plans to take the issue to court. According to the Wolf and Wildlife Center July newsletter, to get the project started the center bought a billboard that outlines the wolves’ plight in Wyoming. This billboard was placed about 50 miles from Yellowstone on the Wyoming side. The project’s goal is to raise $6,000 by spring to put up another billboard on a different approach to the park that draws more than 3 million visitors each year, many of whom come specifically to hear and see the wolves. “Wolves do kill cattle sometimes but not as often as people think,” Kobobel said. “Only about 1 percent of cattle are killed by wolves and the cattle owners are reimbursed. There are nonlethal ways to control predation. We should be spending money on research into those methods and not just allow people to kill wolves indiscriminately.” While shooting wolves is bad enough, Kobobel is incensed at the other methods being brought back to kill wolves: leg-hold traps, snares and even poisons. “Are we going back to the 19th century?” she asked. “In 10 years we won’t have any predators in this country.” Anyone interested in helping Project Wolf is encouraged to send a check to CWWC-Project Wolf, P.O. Box 713, Divide, CO 80814; or call 719-687-9742 to make a credit card donation. A keystone species Wolves are what many scientists call a keystone species. According to University of Washington zoologist Robert T. Paine, who developed the keystone species hypothesis in the 1960s, “a keystone species is one whose impacts on its community or ecosystem are large and greater than would be expected from its relative abundance or total biomass.” He said people don’t notice how important some of these species are to their environments until they are removed. This is exactly what happened in Yellowstone National Park. Until the second half of the 19th century, wolves were abundant throughout the West from Alaska to Mexico but by the end of the century most of their prey animals, bison, elk, deer and moose, had been depleted by human settlers and they began to prey on cattle and sheep. At the insistence of farmers and ranchers, the federal government began an eradication campaign against the gray wolf that left virtually no wolf populations in the Lower 48 States by the 1930s. The removal of wolves had a ripple effect on the ecology. Without their apex predator, elk and, to lesser extent, deer populations soared and overgrazing of aspen and willow caused these trees to go into a rapid decline. This in turn led to a rapid decline in beaver and songbird populations. By browsing along streams, the elk were affecting stream bank stability. Overgrazing along streams led to a decline in shade, streams became warmer and certain fish populations went into decline. After the advent of the Endangered Species Act in 1966, the gray wolf was one of the first animals listed. A 1973 revision called for the restoration of the wolf to its former range and they were reintroduced into Yellowstone in three waves from 1995-1997. In just a few years, scientists have already begun to see the regrowth of aspen and willow and a return of beaver and songbirds where the wolves have their packs. Environmentalists and many scientists feel that delisting wolves and allowing their populations to decline again will lead to declines in other animal and plant populations, as well. Others say that delisting wolves will make state wolf-management programs more effective.

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