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Predator and Prey: The Gray Wolf in Montana

written by: Rose Kivi•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 1/26/2011

The gray wolf population in Montana and throughout the Northern Rockies was essentially decimated in the 1900s. Listed as endangered since 1967, the gray wolf began to reemerge as a breeding species. The gray wolf's future remains uncertain.

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    Conservation History

    According to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks, the gray wolf may have been extinct in 1930. The gray wolf once carried a bounty and were hunted to protect its prey, bison.The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) placed the gray wolf on the Endangered Species list in the 1970s. In 1987, the Northern Rocky Mountain Wolf Recovery Team set into motion plans to reintroduce the gray wolf into regions reaching into Montana.

    Federal protection by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) helped reestablish gray wolf populations wolf populations in the northern Rockies. The FWS estimates by 2006, "at least 1,240" are established in the areas of reintroduction. These promising, yet, beginning numbers caused the FWS to recommend that the gray wolf no longer be considered an endangered species. That was in 2008. Lawsuits and controversy against removal continue into 2009.

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    Gray Wolf in Grand TetonGlacier National ParkGray Wolf USFWSRecognizing a Gray Wolf
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    Studies at Yellowstone National Park showed wolves as an ecological supporting influence on wildlife, including bald eagles, coyotes and bears. According to a Mother Earth News comment, wolves help maintain the integrity of ecosystems. Wolves prey on young or elderly, and injured or sick animals, helping control large herbivore populations. Without wolf predation, elk and deer would overgraze habitat, rendering it uninhabitable for any other animals.

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    The future of the gray wolf remains questionable, by some defenders' estimation. Lawsuits by Defenders of Wildlfe, National Resource Defence Council (NRDC), and the Sierra Club try to hold back an impressive flood of interests to hunt the gray wolf more freely. Delisting puts wolf management in the control of states. Montana is busy preparing for delisting of the gray wolf to be official.

    According to Missoula's, Missoulian Online, an estimated 850 wolves roam in the regions of reintroduction. New classifications categorize wolves as "experimental, or nonessential." Interstate 90, which cuts across Montana, is the line of demarcation for for threatened and nonessential wolves in Montana.

    Gray wolf program coordinator Carolyn Seim claims Montana has no intention of "eliminating wolves." This is little consolation for wildlife protection groups, disappointed with the continuing fight to save the gray wolf in Montana. Defenders of Wildlife, field representative, Suzanne Stone, said, "It is irresponsible to severely loosen restrictions on killing wolves."

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    Image Credits (Image property of Nathional Parks Service, public domain) (Image property of Nathional Parks Service, public domain) (Gray Wolf. Credit: Gary Kramer/USFWS) (Image Property of USFWS Public Domain)