Conservationists in Idaho are speaking out against the “inhumane” killings of eight wolf pups that were part of a pack adopted by a high school since 2003.
The killings were discovered after biologists who tracked the pack noticed its den was empty this spring. Obtaining a “mortality list” from the state department of fish and game, conservationists realized that agents from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) had killed the pups.
Several Idaho conservation groups sent a letter to the secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack, requesting that he “immediately suspend the killing of wolf pups on all public lands by the USDA federal agents”.
“There is nothing biologically sound or socially acceptable about killing wolf pups on federal lands, especially when wolves are under significant eradication pressure,” the letter said. “Wolf pups pose no threat to domestic livestock – in Idaho, or anywhere in the western United States.”
In response, Jenny Lester Moffitt, undersecretary for marketing and regulatory programs, said the USDA wildlife services division “prefers to use non-lethal methods”.
“However, in some situations – such as that in Idaho – it is necessary to use lethal control methods.”
According to the USDA, agents “determined that removing juvenile wolves would encourage adult wolves to relocate, thereby reducing the total number of wolves requiring removal”.
Michel Liao, a student at Timberline high, the school which adopted the pack, condemned the killings.
“They’re justifying killing these wolf pups as a form of humane management even though these wolf pups pose no danger,” Liao told the Idaho Statesman.
“It’s a very dangerous message for the federal government to support the killing of pups that can’t defend themselves.”
Suzanne Asha Stone, executive director of the International Wildlife Coexistence Network, suggested non-lethal methods, such as using lights that create the impression of human presence and deploying sufficient dogs to guard livestock, to control wolf populations.
Ranchers “are guests on our public lands [and] wildlife deserves to be there just as much as they do, if not more so”, she said, calling the decision to kill the Idaho pups “really tragic”.
In May, the Idaho governor, Brad Little, signed a law that allows the killing of up to 90% of the state’s 1,500 wolves, a move backed by hunters and the ranching sector.
The bill’s proponents argued that the Idaho wolf population is too large and poses a serious threat to livestock. The law expands the ways wolves can be hunted and killed. Methods include hunting, trapping and snaring an unlimited number of wolves on a single hunting tag; using night-vision equipment; chasing down wolves on ATVs and snowmobiles; and shooting them from helicopters.
Last October, in a move that prompted backlash from conservationists, the Trump administration removed the gray wolf from endangered species protections.
Gray wolves were protected for 43 years. The Biden administration is considering whether to reinstate protections.