So why allow them to be hunted again?
You have to realize regulated hunting is a conservation tool. This is not the 1880s of, like, "Yahoo! Load up the truck and poison everything!" We could never even think about having wolves unless the states hadn't already restored the deer, the elk, and the other competitors, like mountain lions and black bears. I think the states have certainly earned our trust. How do you know that 1,500 wolves is a viable population—that wolves "will always be there?"
In 2002, I surveyed 80 scientists around the world and asked them what they thought about this. What we came up with was that if you have a population that never went below 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs—which is a successfully reproducing wolf pack—per state, for three successive years, that would be a viable recovered population. Some environmental groups are trying to stop the delisting in court, saying more wolves are needed to be viable.
The question is what's the purpose of the Endangered Species Act. The vast majority of people we polled and the research we've done indicated that the act worked, they're never going to become threatened or endangered again. Is there any threat of wolves hurting people?
There have been some attacks of wolves on people in Europe, much more than here. But of all the animals in the woods, wolves are probably the least likely to attack you. Every other large predator in the world sometimes kills people, but wolves very rarely do. In North America, it's almost always habituated wolves. If you treat a wild wolf like a dog and feed it sandwiches or whatever, it starts acting like a large dog. Every year large dogs put 300,000 people in the emergency room for dog bites. How much hunting of the wolves will be allowed?
Let's use Idaho as an example. We're talking about managing a population there, midwinter, of around 500 wolves. Let's say you've had a 20 percent increase per year. That's an extra 100 wolves per year. If you didn't take out 100, you'd have 600 next year. So they'll have a hunting season that'll take about 100 wolves. They would harvest those wolves in the fall through fair chase hunting, one per person under regulation, you have to tag it and go check in the biological specimens and all that stuff—just like they do deer, elk, and anything else. And then the next year, you'd still have 500 wolves that would produce pups. What would have to happen for the feds to get involved again?
If states fail to maintain their numbers for three consecutive years, we'd look at relisting the wolf population. If they ever got below 100 wolves per state, we'd relist. Have any lessons been learned from the wolves' recovery that can be applied to other endangered species?
I think wolves are easier than most. They're just such resilient animals, they were never extinct in the wild, so we didn't have to do the captive stock and all that. They disappeared because of one reason: intensive human persecution. Once you remedy that, they're kind of OK. Wolves are pretty easy compared to any other animal. I wish they were all this easy.